Harrington: Power will stick with Gold Cup hero Sizing John

Noel Fehily takes over for the ‘spare’ ride on Our Duke in Cheltenham feature

Jessica Harrington’s father was a British Army Brigadier so it’s no surprise command comes easy to her and she wasted little time exerting her authority on some headline-hungry hacks on Tuesday.

Harrington's defending Cheltenham Gold Cup champion, Sizing John, and Our Duke are among the favourites for steeplechasing's 'Blue Riband' in just over two weeks' time.

Her jockey Robbie Power usually rides both. But bilocation is a push even for him. So Noel Fehily has come in for the 'spare' on Our Duke and – weather permitting – will travel to Harrington's yard in Moone tomorrow on a get-to-know mission with the horse.

So a rather innocent query as to how difficult Power's pick between the pair might have been was lobbed at the legendary trainer during a Cheltenham festival promotion event.


"That is a complete non-story. Robert is contracted to Alan and Ann Potts (the late owners of Sizing John) to ride their horses. It's complete nonsense. Provided they both get there he rides Sizing John," Harrington declared.

“You all made a great big story out of this – there was never a story,” she added. “He was always going to ride their horses, especially if they’re trained by me. No way was he getting off any of them – alright?”

As queries go it was an ‘alright’ that felt a lot like ‘halt’. And it was obeyed too. The only thing lacking was the sound of boots stamping to a stop in her kitchen.

It was a glimpse of the steel behind the expensive-sounding charm that helps makes Harrington one of the most celebrated sportswomen in the country.

She recently turned 71. But with 140 horses in her care, equally divided between the flat and National Hunt, extended facilities and new gallops, she remains an intensely competitive and ambitious woman with neither time or inclination for even hints of mischief.

And, to be fair, she should know what a real story looks like. After all she was jump racing’s top story throughout 2017.

Sizing John was her first ever runner in an Irish Gold Cup and won. Then he was her first ever runner in the most coveted Gold Cup of all at Cheltenham and won that. Then he became the first to complete the Gold Cup Triple Crown at Punchestown.

Grand National

While he was earning Horse of the Year honours, Our Duke also sauntered to a first Irish Grand National victory for his trainer who wound up 2017 as the Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year.

Having spent over 30 years dreaming of having a Gold Cup horse, this time, like buses, Harrington has two. And on a freezing morning the sight of both of them going through their paces was enough to warm any heart.

Sizing John may have flopped on his last start over Christmas but Harrington’s daughter, Kate, was having her arms lengthened such was his obvious wellbeing going by the assembled media throng.

Behind him the RTÉ presenter Tracy Piggott was in her customary position riding out Our Duke. He wasn't as flamboyant as his illustrious stable companion but after winning at Gowran just ten days previously he heads to Cheltenham with hopes renewed.

Given the Gold Cup’s pull, Sizing John and Our Duke inevitably commanded most attention, leaving Supasundae a little to the side. It’s a role he’s used to. He too won at Cheltenham last year, in the Coral Cup. But he and the Grand Annual scorer, Rock The World, were strictly stage left.

However after overcoming Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle earlier this month, Supasundae is favourite for a Stayers Hurdle which Harrington is particularly keen to add to her haul.

With the wonderful Moscow Flyer a dual Champion Chase winner, and the stalwart Jezki having won the 2014 Champion Hurdle, Sizing John’s victory a year ago completed the traditional Cheltenham Triple Crown. Harrington appears to have Grand Slam ambitions though.

“I do kind of want to win the Stayers Hurdle, to get the big four,” she laughed.

It’s that sort of ambition that has led to Harrington further extending her reach into flat racing although on a freezing morning classic ambitions for stars such as Alpha Centauri really did seem to be on ice.

But later that day some of Harrington’s 40 two year olds were due to head to the Curragh for a first gallop away from home, a sign of how the flat racing on turf will kick off again in just a few weeks.

That’s all behind the scenes for the moment though with jump racing’s greatest week looms front and centre. A small but select team approach paid off in spades at Cheltenham last year and once again there will be a handful of runners travelling from the Moone yard.

As well as Supasundae, Rock The World will be joined by Don't Touch It in the Grand Annual. Invariably though most attention will be on the Gold Cup pair. They have to take on the English favourite, Might Bite, who is trained by Harrington's great friend, Nicky Henderson.

Since he happens to be her landlord during Cheltenham it will be interesting to see who will be in charge of the last word.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column