Sizing John’s victory in the Grade 3 Ladbrokes Ireland Kinloch Brae Chase at a busy Thurles track opened up some more avenues for the gelding, whose career over fences, thus far, had been stifled by the presence of star two-miler Douvan.
Now trained by Jessica Harrington, he was racing over two and a half miles for just the second time in his career, having been well beaten on his only previous try, at Aintree.
The free-going Smashing set a very strong tempo, with favourite Sub Lieutenant in second place, and Robbie Power, aboard Sizing John, happy to sit nicely off the pace, in third place. As Smashing’s race petered out, Sub Lieutenant took over, and turned for home in front of the eventual winner.
A length and a half clear racing down to second-last, which would be the last fence jumped in this race, the market leader looked a likely winner, but Sizing John, unproven over the trip, picked up well to collar him inside the final furlong.
“He was very relaxed all the way through the race, and Robert said that when he popped the second-last, he was always going to pick up,” said Harrington.
“I’ll talk to Alan and Ann (Potts, owners) and see where we go next, but he’s got a choice: he’s got an entry in the three-mile race at Leopardstown (Stan James Irish Gold Cup) or we could go to the Red Mills Chase at Gowran. And he’s in every race in Cheltenham, so we’ll see where he goes.”
For magnanimity in defeat, look no further than Sub Lieutenant’s trainer, Henry De Bromhead, who was first to congratulate Harrington, despite losing out to a horse which had won a Grade 1 novice hurdle and was placed in a Supreme Novices Hurdle and Arkle Chase whilst in his care.
De Bromhead had been on the mark earlier in the day with Surf Instructor, which took the first division of the thurlesraces.ie Maiden Hurdle.
The Waterford trainer, who credited his wife, Heather, with purchasing the imposing gelding at the Derby Sale, looks to have another fine chasing prospect on his hands, but he showed he could make a mark over smaller obstacles when winning well under 5lb claimer Dylan Robinson.
Odds-on favourite Timi Roli was a well-beaten third in the first division, but his trainer, Willie Mullins, gained compensation when Al Boum Photo led a stable one-two in the second division.
Always to the fore, he warmed to his task as the race progressed, and eventually pulled away to beat stable debutant Caro Des Flos with plenty to spare.
“He did it well, but I’d say both of mine would need a longer trip,” said Mullins. “Both jumped well enough, and we’ll look for another race over two and a half, or two-six, for the winner.
“He’ll probably get an entry in the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett, but he could come back here for the (Grade 2) Michael Purcell Memorial (Feb 23) – that could be a good plan for him.”
Mullins completed a double with the prolific Westerner Lady, in the Grade 2 Coolmore NH Sires EBF Mares’ Novice Chase.
Although the 4-6 favourite, ridden by Ruby Walsh, persisted in jumping out to her right, she had just put her nose in front when long-time leader Keppols Queen crashed out at the last. That one’s departure left the way open for Daisy’s Gift to give Mullins his second one-two of the afternoon.
Mullins credited favourable weather conditions for the winner’s continued success, saying: “She has been a fantastic servant to us all year. The mild winter we’ve had has helped her gain all these wins, as I never dreamt of her going on heavy ground. She can run again in three weeks’ time, and I will keep her to this job (chasing), but don’t think I’ll enter her for Cheltenham.”
Trainer Gordon Elliott recorded a 90-1 double, courtesy of 5-2 chance The Storyteller and 25-1 chance Realt Mor.
Battleford was the well-backed favourite for the W.T. O’Grady Memorial EBF Novice Hurdle but his jumping remains a work in progress and he had no reply when Jack Kennedy sent The Storyteller on as they turned into the straight for the final time.
Introduced at 25-1 for the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham, his trainer confirmed he will likely head to The Festival but was less certain of his target.
“We’ll see where we’ll go next, whether to a handicap or stay the novice route,” said Elliott. “He’s a nice horse, and will win plenty of races. The owners like to have a runner over there (Cheltenham) so he’ll more than likely run in something.”
Asked whether he might return to this track for the Michael Purcell Memorial, he added: “This mightn’t be his track. He seemed to be flat out early, and I’d say more of a galloping track would suit him better.”
Class came to the fore in the Matty Ryan Memorial Handicap Hurdle as the now 12-year-old Realt Mor, former winner of the Grade 1 Powers Gold Cup, travelled stylishly before putting younger rivals to the sword, under a fine ride by Keith Donoghue.
“He’s either very good or very bad, there is no in-between with him,” said Elliott, of the enigmatic gelding. “He’ll probably mix and match between hurdles and fences.”
Jimmy Mangan and Davy Russell teamed up for a smooth success with Winter Magic, in the Thurles Handicap Chase. A scintillating round of jumping was a major contributory factor as Russell controlled matters from an early stage.
“He’s getting better, and may have an entry in the Irish National,” said Mangan. “Davy said he felt electric under him, and he threw him at every fence. Davy’s a brilliant horseman, we all know that. And the better ground made some difference to the horse.”
Ted Walsh was delighted to see Foxrock follow up his recent success at Down Royal with another good effort in the Arctic Tack Stud Hunters’ Chase. The winner does not qualify for the Foxhunters’ Chase at Cheltenham, but will have an entry in the Irish and Aintree Grand Nationals.
Walsh, always good for a quote, was asked if he had any further thoughts about his recent Grade 2 Novice Hurdle winner, Any Second Now, to which he replied, laughing: “I have … loads of thoughts … all good ones. Bless me father for I have sinned, I’ve had impure thoughts … and impure desires.
“He’ll be entered in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle and a fortnight later there’s a Grade 2 at Naas. If connections decide he’s not going to run at Cheltenham, he’ll probably wait and run at Naas.”
This mightn’t be his track. He seemed to be flat out early, and I’d say more of a galloping track would suit him better