Sizing John has measure of opponents in thrilling Irish Gold Cup
Jessica Harrington-trained horse holds off Elliott duo to take Grade One
Sizing John ridden by Robbie Power goes on to win the Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. Photograph: PA Wire
Sizing John claimed victory in a thrilling renewal of the Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
Placed behind the mighty Douvan on no less than seven previous occasions, the seven-year-old formerly trained by Henry de Bromhead claimed his first win since joining Jessica Harrington.
Sent off at 100-30 for what was his first appearance over three miles, Sizing John travelled powerfully in a race not for the faint hearted as a duel up front between Don Poli and Road To Riches ensured a searching gallop from the off.
As Road To Riches faded, Don Poli led the field into the straight, but Harrington’s charge was travelling ominously well in behind and hit the front with a huge leap at the final fence.
His stamina was given a thorough examination as Don Poli and stable companion Empire Of Dirt attempted to bridge the gap, but Sizing John galloped all the way to the line to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
Empire Of Dirt narrowly beat 9-4 favourite Don Poli to the runner-up spot, with Carlingford Lough, winner of the last two renewals of the Grade One showpiece, only fourth on this occasion.
Ladbrokes cut the winner to 14-1 from 25-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Paddy Power 10-1 from 12-1 and RaceBets 10-1 from 25-1 and also 5-1 from 8s for the Ryanair Chase.
Harrington said: “He was brilliant. It’s fantastic to have a horse like that for Alan and Ann [Potts, owners], who has finished so close to Douvan on may occasions. That was his first time over three miles and he jumped, travelled and did everything we had hoped he would.
“He jumped really well and he was just brilliant. Once he went past two and a half miles we knew he was into unknown territory, but we fully expected he would stay three miles and he did.
“Whether he will stay three miles two and a half furlongs at Cheltenham [in the Gold Cup] is another question and I’ll have to speak to Alan and Ann about it, but on good ground there’s a chance he will.”
Power, who had rushed back from injury to ride the winner, having ruptured a disc in his back at Gowran Park on January 26th, added: “We were in a good position as we hadn’t gone quick and I always think that when you don’t go quick, the first one to commit is in the best position.
“I think he will have learnt a lot from this race today. He’ll have learnt to relax a bit better and I’ve thought, from the first day I rode him here at Christmas, that he stays well. He galloped the whole way to the line.”
Mega Fortune claimed top honours in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
Gordon Elliott’s charge had finished behind the Willie Mullins-trained 7-4 favourite Bapaume on his two most recent starts at Fairyhouse and at this venue, but reversed the form in these more testing conditions under a positive ride from Davy Russell.
The 9-2 chance was sent straight to the lead in the two-mile Grade One affair, with Ruby Walsh never too far off the pace aboard Bapaume.
There was little to choose between the pair jumping the second flight from the finish, but Mega Fortune began to assert after rounding the home turn.
To his credit, Bapaume did rally for pressure and briefly threatened to make a race of it once more, but Elliott’s charge was not for catching and passed the post three and a half lengths to the good.
Elliott also trained the third home, Dinaria Des Obeaux, with Mullins’s second string Meri Devie back in fourth.
RaceBets cut Mega Fortune to 7-1 from 16-1 for the Triumph Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, with Bapaume unchanged at 8-1.
Elliott said: “We knew with a bit of ease in the ground and the cheekpieces today it was going to be a different story. We said we were going to make plenty of use of him and make them work. Thankfully it worked out great.
“We’ll go to the Triumph Hurdle now, that’s the plan. Cheltenham will suit him.
“He has actually proved he can go on a bit nicer ground and we know he stays – you have to stay to win a Triumph Hurdle.”
Russell added: “He’s strengthening up into a nice horse.
“The ground here at Leopardstown has been good for the last few meetings and the softer conditions helped.
“The cheekpieces also helped, although he still idled plenty in front and kept plenty to himself.
“The outside track in Cheltenham for the Triumph should suit and he should get the good, strong end-to-end gallop there that he needs.”
Bacardys wore down stable companion Bunk Off Early to emerge victorious in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
Willie Mullins saddled six of the 10 runners in a bid to win the two-and-a-quarter-mile Grade One for the fifth successive year, with stable jockey Walsh siding with Future Champions Novice Hurdle winner Saturnas, who was the heavily backed 5-4 favourite.
However, he was the first one beaten and it was Bunk Off Early, a winner on his hurdling debut at this venue over Christmas, who cruised into contention and hit the front on the run to the final flight in the hands of Paul Townend.
But 12-1 shot Bacardys, a top-class bumper performer last season and ridden by the trainer’s son, Patrick, was beginning to hit top gear and reeled in his stablemate on the run to line, getting up to score by three-quarters of a length.
Brelade was just over two lengths back in third.
Mullins said: “I’d imagine the way he stayed and jumped there we’ll be looking for a trip. I’m delighted to get a Grade One with him for Shanakiel Racing (owners) and, of course, for Patrick as well.
“I didn’t think there was much pace, but obviously there was huge pace as Patrick came from last.
“He’s improving all the time. I needed to run him there to get experience into him as he had a hold up after Christmas. I’m actually surprised he stayed on the way he did. He obviously doesn’t take a lot of training.
“His jumping was much better. Patrick said he jumped a little bit left, but it was a big step up in class for him. He’s had point-to-point experience so he’ll be fine and that race will bring him on hugely as well.
“I’d imagine the Albert Bartlett would be the one for him, but I have two or three others for the race so we’ll see.”
The champion trainer was also thrilled with the effort of the inexperienced runner-up, but disappointed with the performance of the favourite.
He added: “I’m delighted with Bunk Off Early. He jumped well and he’ll improve hugely for jumping at that speed, as that was only his second run over hurdles.
“We think of him more as a two-mile horse rather than two-and-a-half or three. The way he travels we’ll be going for the shorter options.
“Saturnas was never going. We’ll go and investigate that and see what’s up. I thought he’d like this heavy ground, but maybe the ground didn’t suit him.”
Disko produced a brilliant front-running display in the Flogas Novice Chase.
The Noel Meade-trained grey had just a length to find on Our Duke on their meeting over three miles at Christmas and ridden more positively over this shorter trip he comfortably reversed the form.
The 6-1 shot was bounced out in front by Seán Flanagan – riding his first Grade One winner – and some bold leaps over the third- and second-last fences kept up the momentum.
Our Duke chased him down in the straight, but Disko winged the last and kept up the gallop to score comfortably by a length and three-quarters lengths.
The big disappointment of the race was Bellshill, with the 6-5 favourite well beaten off when coming to grief at the final obstacle.