Punchestown holds fond memories for jockey Andrew Lynch, with Sizing Europe twice taking home Grade One gold in the Champion Chase.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Sizing Europe proved top notch over both hurdles and fences, claiming his first festival win in a novice hurdle in 2007, before going on to win the Irish Champion Hurdle the following year.
However, he really hit his stride over fences and was part of a thriving two-mile scene for many a season, striking up a particular rivalry with Big Zeb which saw Sizing Europe take the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, only for Big Zeb to come out on top after a ding-dong battle at Punchestown in 2011.
The following year they both lost out to Finian’s Rainbow at Cheltenham, but Sizing Europe was well on top in winning at Punchestown.
Arguably his crowning Punchestown moment came two years later though, when seemingly on the slide as a 12-year-old, he returned to a glorious reception following a five-and-a-half-length verdict in the Champion Chase.
Lynch recalled: “He was just a very good horse and he did well at Punchestown.
“To come back and win a Grade One like he did was just great. At the age of 12 it was just unbelievable, particularly in a race of that standard.”
Sizing Europe could perhaps even be counted as a little unlucky, as he was plying his trade in the era of Sprinter Sacre, before that champion’s own health issues dented his aura of invincibility.
Sprinter Sacre was in a different league at Cheltenham, beating Sizing Europe by 19 lengths with the absolute minimum of fuss and the pair then renewed rivalries at Punchestown.
The British raider was a 1-9 shot that day, but Sizing Europe made sure Sprinter Sacre had to turn on some style as he tried to do it the hard way from the front.
Sprinter Sacre had too many guns in the end, but Lynch felt that performance also merited a fair bit of praise.
He added: “He finished second to Sprinter Sacre the year before and he certainly wasn’t disgraced in that run either.
“He gave him a really good run for his money. Everyone expected Sprinter Sacre to win that day, but he really put it up to him and gave him a proper battle.”
Lynch also counts a Punchestown Gold Cup win on Notre Pere in 2009 among his career highlights and is no doubt as to the prestige of the fixture.
He added: “Punchestown is our big meeting, that and Leopardstown really, so it’s always nice to have a big winner there.”
Although Punchestown was called off this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Lynch would probably not have been riding in any case as he has been been sidelined since February 2019.
The rider sustained a shoulder injury when falling from Castlegrace Paddy in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown and has been out of action ever since.
The rider was due for a check up recently, but that is on hold given the current crisis.
He said: “I was due to go back to the doctor, but obviously we’ve had to leave it for another couple of weeks.
“They were a little bit more optimistic the last time I went, so I might get a yes or a no. I’ll have to wait and see what they say.”