Jessica Harrington: ‘If we can keep Sizing John sound and on the right path, he’ll win again’

Sizing John was Moone, Co Kildare trainer Jessica Harrington’s first runner in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and last week he duly landed the biggest prize of the jumping calendar, writes Joe Finnegan.

Jessica Harrington: ‘If we can keep Sizing John sound and on the right path, he’ll win again’

You sent over just a handful of runners to Cheltenham, and three returned winners. That is a pretty amazing return, by anyone’s standards. Were you confident, or hopeful, heading to the festival?

Every horse I sent over, I thought had a chance of at least finishing in the money. And, sure enough, all were bang there, and in contention, coming up the hill. To have three winners was far beyond my expectations.

I really just wanted them to run to the best of their ability and, after that, well, we just have to see what happens. But it was amazing alright. The phone has been pretty busy this week!

Douvan has beaten Sizing John seven times and has become his nemesis of sorts. Were you relieved, knowing you wouldn’t have Douvan lining up against Sizing John in the Gold Cup?

To be honest, I wasn’t worried about facing Douvan over a distance longer than three miles, because I knew he wouldn’t get the trip.

So is Sizing John’s improvement due to stepping him up in trip, from two miles to three miles and beyond?

Well, Sizing John finished second to Douvan at Leopardstown, at Christmas. On the face of it, I wasn’t too worried at the time, because that was Sizing John’s first run of the year, whereas Douvan had had a run beforehand. After that race, Robert [Power] said to me that all Sizing John does is stay, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to run him over longer distances.

Robert’s theory was proven right at Thurles, a few weeks later, in the Kinloch Brea, when he won over two and half miles. Going to Leopardstown, in February, for the Irish Gold Cup, Robert was confident about going the half-mile further again. But I had my doubts, mainly because of the heavy going — I know he’d prefer better ground.

So, when he won, one of my first thoughts was that he’ll run a big race at Cheltenham, where the ground tends to be on the soft side of good, and that’s his ideal ground. Going to Cheltenham, I was expecting him to finish in the first three, and hoping, with the way he ran at Leopardstown, that he might win it. I had niggly concerns about going two furlongs further, but, in saying that, in the back of my mind I thought he’d get the trip.

How is Sizing John now, a week after the big race?

He’s absolutely fine. He hasn’t had a saddle on his back all week. He’s taking things real easy. He’s a very straightforward horse, anyway — he’s very strong, but a lovely, laid-back type of horse. When he’s in his box, as long as his friend is in the box beside him, he’s more than happy.

Who’s his friend in the box next door?


Supasundae won the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle on the second day of the festival. How is he since the race?

He’s come home fine, with no problems, and I’ll be expecting him to run next at Aintree, before possibly appearing at Punchestown.

Going back to Sizing John, how does he compare to Moscow Flyer? Who is better? Or is it fair to compare them?

They’re both very special in their own right. Moscow Flyer was a repeat performer — he won three times over there, and that’s a very special achievement.

Sizing John has won once, so far! But, honestly, it’s brilliant to win at all over there, because it’s so difficult and so competitive. If we can keep Sizing John sound and on the right path, he’ll win again.

To answer your question, when they’re happening at the time, the wins are all very special and hold equal par in my mind. In hindsight, maybe, my views will change after time and one will get preference over the other, but, for now, they’re both on a level par! I couldn’t rank them at this stage.

So, Punchestown is next on the agenda for Sizing John. Any concerns, at this early stage?

Yes, he’s now being aimed at the Punchestown Gold Cup. It’s not for another five weeks or so, and that will be roughly six weeks after the Cheltenham race, so he’ll have had plenty of time to recover. I have no concerns right now. The ground will be good, safe ground — exactly what you would expect at a festival of this size. You never really get anything else.

What other Punchestown entries will you be making?

There’ll be too many to name, but Supasundae, Rock The World [Jessica’s other Cheltenham Festival winner], Oscar Sam, and Forge Meadow will all be going.

Basically, everything that I have that’s ready for a run, and can get a run, will be entered up. I don’t train too far away from Punchestown. It’s almost my local track. I like it there, I like the festival, and I’ll be running as many horses there as I can manage.

Before that, Aintree takes place. What will Liverpool have in store for you?

Not too much, to be honest. I reckon Supasundae will be my only runner over there. There’s a chance Jezki might make the trip, but I’ll make a decision on him nearer the time. He hasn’t done any work since coming from Cheltenham, either.

And the other big festival on the horizon is Fairyhouse, at Easter. What are the plans? Is Our Duke, ante-post favourite with most bookmakers, on target for the Irish Grand National?

I’m happy with Our Duke’s weight for the national and I hope he’ll run well. Novices tend to do well in that race and he’s a grand, big, galloping horse, who should be well able to hold his own.

The new Irish flat season kicks off this weekend at Naas. How are things shaping up for the season ahead?

I’ve got 25 two-year-olds in the yard and a few nice three-year-olds left over from last year. I’ve Marshall Jennings entered for the Irish Lincoln, at Naas, but it’s been a funny week, weather-wise, and the ground will probably turn up heavy. If that’s the case, he may not run. We’ll start the season slowly, and keep our plans fluid.

That’s covered what’s happened recently and the future. What about going back to the beginning? From eventing and representing Ireland on the world stage, how did you make the transition to training thoroughbreds?

My brother was a top amateur and later a trainer, and my father was involved in studs and breeding, so I grew up surrounded by thoroughbreds and very much involved in racing.

When Johnny and I married, he had a permit to train, which I eventually took over. So, once I gave up eventing, I suppose I sort of fell into training horses, which I have been doing for 28 years now.

Our number of winners and number of horses have steadily got better over the years, too. We had a bit of a dip during the recession, but things are slowly getting better again.

You’ve got two daughters working in the yard alongside you. Since the passing of Johnny, nearly three years ago, is it important to have your family around you?

Well, if you can’t trust your family, who can you trust?! My eldest daughter, Emma, runs the office and does all the things that I hate doing, while Kate helps in the yard. Both are terrific and they definitely make life a lot easier around here.

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