By Andy Stephens
The trainer said on Racing UK’s Luck On Sunday programme that it has been a challenge to get the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, owned by the late Alan Potts, in something like peak shape for his return and that testing conditions would be unwelcome for his clash against the race-fit pair of Bristol De Mai and Cue Card.
“He’s a big horse, verging on 17 hands, and when he came in he was about 50 kilos above his racing weight so we had a little bit of Weight Watchers going on,” Harrington said. “He put on a lot of weight over the summer but he seems to be coming now.
“He’s doing another gallop this afternoon and after that hopefully he will be spot on but I didn’t get to run him until Christmas last year so I’m going a month to six weeks earlier. We will have to see what happens.
“I suppose the only worry for me is if the ground got very heavy, but we have to take that as it comes.”
The ground at Haydock is soft with more rain forecast this week.
Sizing John was regularly used as a punchbag by Douvan when running over shorter distances for Henry De Bromhead. He finished second or third behind him on seven occasions.
Switched to the Harrington yard last term, the seven-year-old thrived over longer distances and either side of his Gold Cup win landed the Irish Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup.
“He kept on improving last year and the further I went with him the better he seemed to get,” Harrington said.
“His one real strong suit is that he ran so much in two mile chases because he jumps at two-mile speed and yet can gallop away for three miles. He can jump the fence, then you can take him back and fill him up and then away you go again.
“As long as his jumping holds together, which it has so far, that’s his strongest suit. He’s got so much speed over his fences and is not making big efforts - he’s taking that in his stride.”
The Betfair Chase is the first leg of The Jockey Club’s £1million Chase Triple Crown. The other two legs are the King George VI Chase and Gold Cup and Sizing John is a best-priced 25-1 with BetVictor to emulate Kauto Star's achievement in the 2006-07 season.
Harrington said: “It was what Alan [Potts] wanted. He said after Punchestown he’d love to go for the million pound bonus and said to me ‘do you think it’s possible’. I said anything is possible, let’s try and aim him at that and see if it all happens but he understood horses aren’t always right, or get there.”
Sizing John is a top-priced 6-4 for the Betfair Chase with the sponsor. Bristol De Mai, winner of the Charlie Hall Chase, is 9-4, while Cue Card, seeking a record-equalling fourth win in the showpiece, is 9-2.
Harrington concurred when asked if the race might be the trickiest of the legs to win because Sizing John has not run since April.
“We haven’t had a warm-up race, he wasn’t ready to go to Down Royal [earlier this month] and anything else would have been too early for him,” she said.Harrington, left, keeps Sizing John in her isolation yard (Racingfotos)
“Also, he’s got to go to England and there’s always the extra bit of stress involved travelling because he’s a highly strung horse. He doesn’t really relax in his stable and so we have to be careful about that with him.”
Famously, in his days with De Bromhead, Sizing John was kept calm by the company of the goat.
However, the goat did not make the switch to Harrington’s yard and the trainer says she would be reluctant to ever introduce another into his life because, in her experience “they permanently eat all the horse feed”.
Instead, she indulges Sizing John with a quiet existence away from the hustle and bustle of her main yard in Moone, County Kildare.
“He happened to be in our isolation yard [when he arrived], which is in the middle of the farm,” Harrington said. “We’ve left him there ever since. He’s in a very quiet spot and he seems to be perfectly happy there and he has Supasundae beside him.”
Meanwhile, Cue Card remains on course to try and win a fourth Betfair Chase, having suffered no ill effects from his fall five out in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. He will be ridden for the first time by 19-year-old Harry Cobden.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, Colin, said: "He’s in lovely form. We took him to Wincanton last week because we wanted to take him for a day out.
"He’s had three horrible falls now and every race we run him in is a hard one. We wanted to take him there just to enjoy it and of all of them he got the most out of going to Wincanton.
"Had he not fallen last time he would have run a massive race and we would be going to Haydock with a lot of confidence as that is where he puts his best performances."