Sizing John set for dramatic Cheltenham return

| January 31, 2019

Best yet to come for Sizing John

It seems a long time since Sizing John was dominating the racing press. The gelding has not been seen in action in well over a year – his last outing was the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown back in December 2017. Since then, he has been dogged by injury and there were the inevitable whispers that his moment at the top might already have been and gone – he will, after all, turn nine this year.

However, trainer Jessica Harrington is adamant that her star performer will be back in action this year, and that the best is yet to come. Even more intriguingly, it looks increasingly likely that his comeback will take place at Cheltenham, the very venue where he carved his name into the history books back in 2017.

Rolling back the years

Two years ago, Sizing John became the first horse in more than 20 years to win both the Irish Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same year. He also scooped the Punchestown Gold Cup and the John Durkan for good measure. However, this was followed by a year of frustration. A hairline fracture to the pelvis meant the horse was unable to defend his crown at Cheltenham last year, and unsuitable conditions have prevented him from making a much-anticipated comeback.

Plans to run him at the forthcoming Dublin festival have been scuppered by hard ground, and Harrington took the tough decision to withdraw his entry. She told reporters: “I don’t think there’s going to be enough rain and if I leave him in, I’d only be tempted to run. I must be sensible because, at the end of the day, we’d only do more damage.”

A fairytale return?

This means it seems almost certain that Sizing John’s return to action will come on one of the biggest stages of all. He is one of three former winners entered for this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. But can he really come back from nowhere to retake the crown? The bookmakers are dubious, to put it mildly, with Unibet offering odds of 25/1 for a fairytale win. Last year’s winner, Native River, is just behind early favourite Presenting Percy at 9/2, while the 2015 winner, Coneygree, will also be in the running, but is a 66/1 outsider.

Mullins seeking that elusive crown

One of the unique features of the Cheltenham Festival is that punters pay as much attention to the fortunes of the trainers as to the horses. Last year, Willie Mullins had a remarkable seven winners at Cheltenham, taking his all time tally to 61, which places him one ahead or “Mr Cheltenham” himself, Nicky Henderson.

However, Mullins has never had a Gold Cup winner. This year, he has no fewer than nine entries and his best hope of success is Kemboy, who enjoyed an impressive win in the Savills Chase at Leapordstown at the end of last year. He is currently third favourite for the Gold Cup at 15/2, while stablemate Al Boum Photo is a 12/1 shot.

 


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