Sizing John finally achieved a major victory on Sunday when winning the Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. An incredibly consistent horse, he had previously finished second on seven occasions to the imperious Douvan, the unbackable Cheltenham banker from this side of the Irish Sea.
Sizing John, previously trained in Co. Waterford by Henry de Bromhead, won his first race for his new trainer Jessica Harrington in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles last month, but this race had much more depth to it.
Sent off the 100-30 second favourite for what was his first appearance over three miles, Sizing John travelled powerfully all the way around as the Gigginstown horses, Don Poli and Road To Riches, took the field along at a decent pace, despite the inclement weather at the South Dublin venue.
Entering the straight the Potts-owned Sizing John was travelling very well as Don Poli took over the lead from his front running companion, Road to Riches, who began to fade.
At the final fence the Jessica Harrington-trained horse took the lead with an impressive jump. Despite the best efforts of both Don Poli and Empire of Dirt – also owned by Gigginstown – neither succeeded in closing the gap to the eventual winner as Sizing John galloped on to the line to win by three-quarters of a length.
Despite the horse not having tackled the three-mile distance before Sunday, Jessica Harrington was quite confident that he would also stay the further two-furlong distance of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March:
“It’s my first runner in the Irish Gold Cup and my first winner. It’s very exciting. I’d say we’ll be going for the Gold Cup. I don’t know, as I haven’t spoken to Alan and Ann (Potts) yet. He looks like a three-mile chaser rather than a two-miler. He’s in all three races at Cheltenham so we’ll see what happens. He’ll be coming out of the Champion Chase though!”
The two Gigginstown House Stud-owned horses, Empire Of Dirt, and Don Poli, fought out second and third, with the former narrowly defeating the 9-4 favourite Don Poli. The former dual winner of the contest, Carlingford Lough, stayed on to finish fourth.
Elsewhere on a quality card, Mega Fortune from the Gordon Elliott stable won the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, a race which was won in the recent years by Our Conor before he subsequently destroyed the Triumph Hurdle field at Cheltenham. Time will tell whether this winner goes on to emulate the tragic Our Conor.
The Willie Mullins-trained Bapaume, winner on his two recent starts at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown, started the Spring Juvenile Hurdle as 7-4 favourite. The testing under foot conditions may have been to Mega Fortune liking, as Bapaume had won their previous clash on better ground. It wouldn’t necessarily be any great surprise if the Mullins’ charge came out on top on better ground at Cheltenham, and overturn this three and a half length defeat, should they clash in the Triumph Hurdle.
While Davy Russell, the winning rider of Mega Fortune, admitted that the ground suited his horse, he felt Cheltenham could suit even more:
“The ground here at Leopardstown has been good for the last few meetings and the softer conditions helped. 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.
It isn’t often Willie Mullins wins a Grade 1 contest with a 12-1 shot, but Bacardys, ridden by the trainer’s son, Patrick, wore down his stable companion Bunk Off Early to claim victory in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
With Willie Mullins saddling six of the 10 runners, punters followed the choice of Champion Jockey, Ruby Walsh, who chose Saturnas. He went off the 5-4 well-backed favourite. He was the first horse beaten in the contest, with Walsh admitting afterward that he heard a noise from the horse. Following veterinary examination Saturnas was found to be normal post-race.
Bacardys, a top-class bumper performer last season, reeled in his stable companion Bunk Off Early, the mount of Paul Townend, nearing the line, to win by three-quarters of a length.
Willie Mullins suggested the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham as the horse’s target:
“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.”
In the other Grade 1 race at Leopardstown, the Noel Meade-trained Disko lead from flag-fall to see off all rivals in the Flogas Novice Chase, giving jockey, Seán Flanagan, his first success at the top level.
On future plans for the winner, Noel Meade said:
“I’d say Cheltenham ground will suit him all right – the usual Cheltenham ground. I would never think that he would want quick ground. He’s a beautiful-moving horse.”
It can be strongly argued that the rain-sodden ground had a bearing on results on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if they stand the test of time. March at Cheltenham will reveal all.