Harrington eyes big prizes
Sizing John is showing "a good pep in his step" with trainer Jessica Harrington reporting the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup winner to be well on his way to full fitness as he heads straight for the Cotswolds in his bid for back-to-back victories in chasing's blue riband.
Having made a winning return in the John Durkan Chase when comfortably disposing of Djakadam, Sizing John's usual zest was absent during an unsatisfactory display in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase when trailing in seventh, but Harrington blames herself for the poor showing, jokingly labelling herself "a little bit of an idiot" for running him again just 18 days later.
"Basically, I just ran him back too quickly after the John Durkan, simple as that.
"It was harder on him than it looked, he looked like he had a very easy race, it was very heavy ground that day and it probably just took a bit more out of him than we thought. That was my fault," Harrington told the Irish Independent before providing a positive update on his health.
"He's coming back to himself and we're happy with him. We let him down a bit after the fiasco at Christmas and he seems to be now coming back into form and has a good pep in his step. We've got a good while until Cheltenham so we'll just keep him going and go straight there."
As Harrington announced her string for next month's top-class Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown, she also gave a positive report on last year's Irish Grand National winner Our Duke which is "all systems go" to line up in the Unibet Gold Cup on February 4, where he vies for favouritism with Noel Meade's Road To Respect at around 7/2.
The previous day's BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle could throw up an intriguing clash with Willie Mullins' star hurdler Faugheen, on a retrieval mission after being pulled up in the Ryanair Hurdle, possibly facing reigning Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air as both hold entries but English trainer Nicky Henderson is likely to stay on English soil with his brilliant seven-year-old.
The renewal of Min and Simply Ned's rivalry looks to be a mouth-watering prospect, however, with both set to take their place in the Grade Two Coral Dublin Steeplechase following their controversial clash over Christmas which saw Min pass the post in first place before being relegated to second place due to interference.
Throw in the return of Yorkhill, Mullins' enigmatic star which is twice a Cheltenham Festival scorer, to two miles and the presence of reigning Champion Chase winner Special Tiara for Henry de Bromhead and that could be the race of the weekend.
De Bromhead confirmed that his 11-year-old, whose last seven races have been in England, is a "definite" runner and that unusual tactics might be implemented as he chases his first win on Irish soil since claiming a Beginners' Chase win in Ballinrobe in September 2012.
"Any time we run him in Ireland, he seems to run terrible. We were going to run him in Gowran in October and we'd actually booked him in two days before, we were literally going to drive him up two days before. I don't know whether it's to do with staying away or what it is," the Waterford handler said.
"He seems to like to being away, all his best form is in England so that's the extremes we were going to go to. We might bring him to Leopardstown a couple of days early. He probably needs to have a run and he's a definite at the moment. The better the ground, the better he goes."
The meeting of Footpad, hot favourite for the Arkle, and Petit Mouchoir is another potential bright spot while Irish trainers' championship leader Gordon Elliott looks set to unleash Samcro, which worked pleasingly at the Foxrock track yesterday, in the Grade One Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle on day one.
Plenty of clues on offer as the countdown to Cheltenham continues.