Sizing John emerges from Douvan shadow to bask in Cheltenham’s golden glow

Jessica Harrington’s horse wins Gold Cup to cap most successful ever Festival for Ireland

 

On the day it was confirmed Douvan faces a summer of recuperation from injury, Sizing John finally and definitively stepped out of the shadow of his former nemesis by landing the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in superb style on Friday.

Freed from the thankless task of trying to match strides with Douvan, the Jessica Harrington-trained star decisively carried the speed which allowed him keep tabs on his brilliant old rival through seven fruitless races over two miles right to the finish of the gruelling Gold Cup test.

It also carried Robbie Power’s mount into history as the 24th Irish-trained winner of jump racing’s ultimate prize and Harrington as just the third female trainer to manage the feat.

A couple of hours later, Harrington and Power put a cherry on top of the most successful Cheltenham Festival Ireland has ever enjoyed by winning the concluding Grand Annual with Rock The World.

It was a scarcely credible 19th Irish winner over the four days. But if Rock The World lived up to his name, his long-term fate is to be a mere footnote in comparison to his stable companion who has joined the sport’s most exclusive roll of honour .

Under Power’s perfect stalking ride, Sizing John had both Djakadam and Native River in his sights at the second last. When Djakadam blundered, Power took the initiative.

The only time Sizing John had tackled three miles before had been in the previous month’s Irish Gold Cup: once into virgin territory, and the extra quarter mile plus of the real thing, there wasn’t a shred of vulnerability.

Momentum

At the line, the 7/1 winner had almost three lengths in hand of the running-on Minella Rocco, with Native River in third.

Even the seemingly unstoppable momentum Willie Mullins had generated by landing both the County Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett just prior to the Gold Cup wasn’t enough to get Djakadam into better than fourth.

Mullins had earlier happily issued a bulletin on Douvan whose winning streak had spectacularly come to an end in Wednesday’s Champion Chase, reporting the horse has a stress fracture of his pelvis but that he should be 100 per cent again after box rest and a summer out on grass.

Even that seemed to encourage the belief that after finishing runner-up on six occasions in the Gold Cup the tide of good fortune was set to finally flow in Mullins’s favour.

Instead, with her first Gold Cup runner, Jessica Harrington achieved the prize it’s easy to suspect Mullins would swap a sizable number of his 54 other festival victories for. But figures have rarely been the measure of this pioneering former Olympic three-day event rider.

Harrington has never possessed the numbers to fight for a trainer’s championship, preferring instead to concentrate on quality.

The peerless two-miler Moscow Flyer won the Champion Chase here in 2003 and 2005. Three years ago Jezki landed an emotional Champion Hurdle just prior to the death of Harrington’s much respected husband, Johnny.

With Sizing John she has completed the triple crown of Cheltenham’s great championship races, and typically she instinctively handed the credit to Power.

He will stay

“It’s thanks to Robert. He said at Christmas ‘he will stay’. Sizing John has gone from two miles at Christmas to winning over three miles and two furlongs here. He jumped like a buck and it’s his jumping that got him there the whole way,” she said.

Power in turn made his instinctive belief that far from being a two-mile horse Sizing John was actually crying out for a stamina test seem the sort of judgment call that should be routine for a hugely experienced Grand National-winning rider.

Both were feeling their way with a horse who had only arrived in Harrington’s Moone, Co Kildare yard in the autumn having been moved from Henry De Bromhead’s yard by Yorkshire owner, Alan Potts.

Having sourced Sizing John and trained him to Grade One success as a novice, the finish must have been agonising for De Bromhead. His own Gold Cup runner, Champagne West, made much of the early running but faded to ninth.

“I do feel very sorry for Henry with this horse and Supasundae [Wednesday’s Coral Cup winner]. I only inherited them. He did all the hard work,” Harrington said. Almost inevitably she also mentioned how some of that hard work involved Douvan.

“If you think about it, if Douvan hadn’t been around, we’d have stayed at two miles. The fact Douvan is there forced us to step up,” she said.

It seemed even in his finest hour, Sizing John can’t shrug off that Douvan.

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