The Champion Hurdle Sizing Europe chances are summed up by Irish jockey Andrew McNamara who first hit the headlines when steering Newmill to a nine-length success in the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase at The Festival in 2006. Since then, he has enjoyed numerous big-race successes, including last years Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown, in which his perseverance on Beef Or Salmon paid off when he caught The Listener in the shadow of the post.
A memorable 2005/06 season saw him follow up his Cheltenham win with victory in the John Smiths Melling Chase at Aintree on Hi Cloy, while Newmill gave the County Limerick man a third Grade One success within two months in the Kerrygold Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival. However, his victory at Prestbury Park remains the highlight of the 24-year-olds career.
Newmill was my first Festival winner. Id say I was more shocked than delighted after the race. I was just touched off last year on one of Noel Chances, Distant Thunder, when I was beaten two shortheads (in the William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase). As was the case with Newmill two years ago, McNamara has picked up a spare ride in the weeks before The Festival. However, unlike the 16/1 chance Newmill, on this occasion he has landed the plum ride on Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle favourite Sizing Europe, who heads the market for the hurdling showpiece after winning the Irish equivalent under McNamara at Leopardstown last
Denis (ORegan), Ruby (Walsh), Timmy (Murphy) and I think Mick Darcy had the job too up until a couple of weeks ago, so there is a big line of jockeys gone missing. I was lucky to get on him and Im really looking forward to riding him at Cheltenham. I havent ridden Sizing Europe since Leopardstown but Id say Ill go down to Henry de Bromheads some day in the next week or so to sit up on him.
I suppose Sublimity and maybe Osana are the biggest dangers to him. He beat Osana at Cheltenham the last time (Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, November, 2007) but he was getting 6lb off him. Id say if Sublimity is back to the form that he was in when he won the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last year, hell be the one to beat. McNamara has this season been connected to County Tipperary handler Edward OGrady, the most successful current Irish trainer at The Festival, and he will also have a number of fancied rides for him. Dual December Grade One winner Skys The Limit is entered in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, the Ryanair Chase and The Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, though the rider suggested that, should the 2006 Coral Cup winner make it back to Prestbury Park, his most likely engagement would be the first-named extended three-mile contest.
Edward OGrady will probably have a few going. Hell have Indian Spring in the JCB Triumph Hurdle and he has the likes of Peplum and Tranquil Sea entered too. Theyre running over the weekend, so well see how they get on and well know more afterwards. Clopf might go for The Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy, but nothing is definite yet. He just got there at Navan the last day but Ive been a little bit disappointed with him this season.