Jessica Harrington: Might Bite is the main danger to Sizing John
The Gold Cup winning trainer gave us some horses to follow at the Leopardstown launch...19:05 Monday 11 December 2017, 19:05 11 Dec 2017
The 2017 Leopardstown National Hunt Festival is a key component of the Racing calendar, as we dust off the cobwebs, throw the Quality Street to one side and feast instead on 4 days of top class jumps action at the Foxrock track in Dublin. Whether it's a social jamboree with old friends over a glass, or a serious excursion with binoculars in hand, the meeting is inclusive, has a touch of class, and delivers 28 quality races. €1.3 million in total prize money, 7 Grade 1 contests and big Tote pools for punters ensure decent crowds and great craic from flag fall on St Stephen's Day.
Jessica Harrington has almost won it all in the game - the Champion Chase with the brilliant 'Moscow Flyer', the Champion Hurdle with 'Jezki' - and most recently the Cheltenham Gold Cup with 'Sizing John', the 7 year old who also won the Leopardstown and Punchestown Gold Cups earlier this year.
Sizing John's seasonal reappearance on Sunday was uplifting, as he cruised home under jockey Robbie Power to win the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown. We love our equine champions and 'John' has embraced his baptism.
So welcoming the media on a bitterly cold Monday in Moone, County Kildare to launch Leopardstown 2017, the Harrington gang, Jessie, daughters Kate and Emma, and the hard working stable staff were in top spirits on home soil where the magic is at its source.
It warmed all of the watching press to see these beautiful specimens trot and then work on the gallops. Sizing John was in zen mode as he was paraded around the yard, and interestingly, Kate Harrington gave the nugget that the horse is physically stronger this year. Improvement is on the cards, and for a horse that has plenty of tactical speed and travels well, it's going to be hard for any pretender to steal his crown on March 16th, well being permitting.
There was a time when Irish trained Gold Cup winners were few and far between. Between 1977 and 2005, there were only two, 'Dawn Run' in 1986 and 'Imperial Call' a decade later. It took another 8 years after 'War of Attrition' in 2006 for 'Lord Windermere' to bring the prize back across the Irish sea. This is a golden age of Irish racing, from a 19 winner rout at Cheltenham 2017 to Aidan and Joseph O'Brien's walk on water. It shouldn't be taken for granted.
The Nicky Henderson trained 'Might Bite', the winner of the 3 mile novices' chase at the Cheltenham Festival back in March, is the horse Jessica Harrington nominated to me as the biggest threat to Sizing John.
"He must be on what he's done so far, he was an impressive winner of the RSA last year, he had a very impressive comeback run, he's going to run in the King George Chase at Kempton on St Stephen's Day, so we'll see. Look, Sizing John is a year more experienced that him, but until they meet, we won't know!"
I also asked Jessica to nominate some horses to follow over Christmas and the coming months that might win us a few bob.
She picked out 'Someday' - a horse that is coming back to himself after a fall last time out. This was a decent bumper horse that probably needs a test of stamina - he runs in the distinctive patchwork quilt colours. He is set to run at Leopardstown.
'Whisperinthebreeze' is a promising 4 year old horse that should appear in a bumper shortly after winning his point to point at Tinahely.
'Another Barney' is another young horse that won his point at Tralee and is set to appear on the racetrack soon.
'Madison To Monroe' was bought by the late Alan Potts, owner of Sizing Europe, and won his point by 8 lengths at Monksgrange. Put him in the notebook.
And 'Not Many Left' is expected to improve again from his third placed finish behind the Willie Mullins trained 'Hollowgrange' in a bumper at Punchestown on Sunday. 'Hollowgrange' could be very smart.
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