It seems rather obvious now that Sizing John has been running over the wrong trip for most of his life.
That surely has to be the logical conclusion, following the seven-year-old’s victory in the three miles plus Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last Sunday.
We are all geniuses after the fact, of course, and there was nothing particularly obvious about this, until Jessica Harrington decided to try something different over the last few weeks.
Sizing John, formerly in the care of Henry de Bromhead, has now progressed from literally banging his head against a brick wall to becoming a live candidate for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The brick wall basically consisted of a horse called Douvan, who showed his rear end to Sizing John on no less than seven occasions.
Sizing John ran eleven times for de Bromhead and was asked just once to race beyond two miles and a furlong. That was over two and a half at Aintree last April, finishing 24 lengths third behind Arzal, and that seemed to put to bed any notion he needed beyond two miles in order to maximise his potential.
Ann and Alan Potts, who own Sizing John, subsequently took all of their horses off de Bromhead and this fellow landed at Harrington’s.
She started him off over two miles and a furlong at Leopardstown at Christmas, but he ran into Douvan again and was beaten eight lengths into second.
Robbie Power, riding Sizing John for the first time was, apparently, adamant he needed to go out in trip and could hardly have been more right.
The horse, in contrast to Aintree in April, relished two and a half when beating Sub Lieutenant at Thurles last month and then got the three miles at Leopardstown on Sunday standing on his head.
There is, mind you, real precedent for enjoying serious success when you have the balls to go down another road.
Take Kauto Star, for instance. I think it is fair to say that when he first came from France we thought of him as a two-miler.
The first big race he won in England was the two-mile Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown. The first time he ran at the Cheltenham festival was in the 2006 two-mile Champion Chase when he fell at the third, contest won by New Mill, when the 2-1 favourite. In 2007 Kauto Star returned to Cheltenham to easily win the Gold Cup.
An even better example of taking a chance, however, has to be Charles Byrnes’ Solwhit. Now he was a high-class hurdler, who was hugely successful at two miles and rather smart at two and a half as well.
His problem, though, was being around at the same time as one Hurricane Fly. There were days when Solwhit gave everything, but couldn’t beat the Fly and was second to him four times.
In 2013 Hurricane Fly was impressive enough in winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, but Byrnes had, you’d imagine, now reasoned that taking him on again was futile.
Indeed, he may well have been familiar with Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’’
And so Solwhit stepped up to three miles for the first time at that Cheltenham festival and, beautifully partnered by Paul Carberry, landed the World Hurdle. Then at the Grand National meeting at Aintree some weeks later, Solwhit won another Grade 1 over an extended three miles.
It just makes you wonder how many horses are, on an ongoing basis, running over distances that are actually entirely unsuitable!
I KNOW we have spoken here about Mark Walsh a few times in the past, but he is surely worth a mention again.
I thought his handling of the Joseph O’Brien-trained Slowmotion, in a Listed mares’ chase at Naas last Saturday, was quite exceptional.
The five-year-old could hardly be described as the most natural of jumpers, but Walsh gave her all the time required to warm to his task and gambled on those in front going too fast.
To make it in any game you have to be your own man and to see Slowmotion arriving from way off the pace to sweep clear in the closing stages emphasised that Walsh is certainly that and has the ability to back it up.
HUNTER chasers don’t exactly light this fire to any great extent, but have to say that Staker Wallace was a fair old eye-catcher when third behind the vastly experienced pair, Foxrock and On The Fringe, at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Very lightly-raced, the King’s Theatre gelding ran two reasonable races over flights over a year ago, before reappearing to easily take a point-to-point last month.
Ridden by Derek O’Connor, he was hunted around at the back for much of the trip at Leopardstown and must have been some 20 lengths adrift of eventual winner, Foxrock, with a circuit to cover.
Afforded a real education, he was going on nicely enough at the end to be beaten seven and a half lengths into third. We will certainly be noting his progress with a fair bit of interest.
THERE is no way of knowing how the British and Irish four-year-old hurdlers compare and we will only find out when they take each other on in the Triumph at Cheltenham.
That said, given the right conditions, we can expect a big effort from Gordon Elliot’s Mega Fortune in that Triumph, following his spread-eagling of the field in Sunday’s Grade 1 at Leopardstown.
These were the best juveniles in the country and there were decent gaps back through the field, which is always most encouraging.
But to produce his best there is no doubt Mega Fortune has to have soft ground and buckets of rain on the Friday at Cheltenham, and the legendary hill, would make this tough sort hard to beat.
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