Harrington sets sights on Punchestown Gold with Cheltenham hero Sizing John
Monday 20 March 2017
By Oliver Brett
Trainer Jessica Harrington has decided Sizing John will attempt to follow up last week's Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph with a bid for further Grade One glory on home shores at the Punchestown Festival.
Sizing John, who showed his stamina to easily hold off the fast-finishing runner-up Minella Rocco by two and three quarter lengths at Cheltenham on Friday, will be aimed at the €250,000 Grade One Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on April 26. It will be the seven-year-old's final start of the season.
Harrington paraded Sizing John around the Kildare village of Moone on Sunday alongside her two other Cheltenham Festival winners, Supasundae (Coral Cup) and Rock The World (Grand Annual).
And on Monday she said: "Sizing John has come out of his Cheltenham race very well and we were obviously thrilled with how everything went. So we have decided that our next step is to go to the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup at the end of April."
Watch analysis of the Gold Cup won by Sizing John on Friday from Chris Dixon and Nick Lightfoot from The Verdict
One possible rival, and an intriguing one, is the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup here, Coneygree. The fragile 10-year-old, trained by Mark Bradstock in Oxfordshire, has only raced twice in the last two years but the most recent update from his stable was that Ireland was the target.
Irish trainers collected a record-smashing 19 winners at Cheltenham and plenty more of them besides Sizing John could take their chances at the five-day Festival. Among the Willie Mullins contingent, Un De Sceaux, who won the Ryanair Chase when dominating from the front, could step back up to two miles for the Grade One BoyleSports Champion Chase on the Tuesday. That race would also appear to be the obvious target for Henry de Bromhead's Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Special Tiara.
Thursday's highlight is the Grade One Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, in which Nichols Canyon, a somewhat surprising winner of the equivalent race at Cheltenham, seeks further top-level honours. Last year's winner One Track Mind, who trainer Warren Greatrex has kept fresh for a possible return visit to Punchestown, is another potential contender.
Yorkhill, touted as a Gold Cup horse of the future when winning the JLT Novices' Chase, is also on the Punchestown shortlist for Mullins as is the same trainer's Penhill, winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
Gordon Elliott matched Mullins' six winners at Cheltenham and many of those are thought to be on course for Punchestown including the brilliant mare Apple's Jade, who captured the Grade One OLBG Mares' Hurdle. With Elliott holding a lead of around €360,000 over Mullins in his bid for a first trainers' championship, there is every prospect of both trainers saddling plenty of Punchestown runners. The Irish season finishes on the final day of the Festival.
Richie Galway, Racing Manager at Punchestown, said: "Punchestown has undergone the first phase of a major redevelopment project in preparation for this year's Festival. Combine this with record levels of prize money, possibly the strongest Irish team of the modern era and a powerful group of British raiders and we are in for a very exciting five days from April 25 to 29."
Prize money of €2.9 million at this year's Punchestown Festival represents a total increase of 33% since 2013.