Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Harrington's famous five ready to fire

Trainer Jessica Harrington with Gold Cup hopes Our Duke (Tracy Piggott) and reigning champion Sizing John (Kate Harrington) at her Commonstown Stables in Moone, Co Kildare. Photo: PA
Trainer Jessica Harrington with Gold Cup hopes Our Duke (Tracy Piggott) and reigning champion Sizing John (Kate Harrington) at her Commonstown Stables in Moone, Co Kildare. Photo: PA

Michael Verney

You can count the number of runners which Jessica Harrington will have at Cheltenham next month on one hand but remarkably that quintet consists of two leading Gold Cup fancies, the favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle and two live handicap chase hopes.

Sentiment goes out the window for Harrington when it comes to sending horses across the Irish Sea with quality always trumping quantity and this year will be no different as she looks to add to her 11-winner tally at the Cotswolds.

After securing her maiden Gold Cup with Sizing John last year - her first runner in the blue riband - the Moone handler now finds herself in the unique position of having two runners at single digit odds for the Festival showpiece.

There's little to choose between reigning champion Sizing John (6/1) and last year's Irish Grand National hero Our Duke (7/1) in the betting with Harrington acknowledging "it would be very hard to split them".

Her daughter Kate, assistant trainer and Sizing John's daily work rider, has an intimate knowledge of both having ridden Our Duke to Bumper success on his racecourse debut and when pressed as to which has the better chance, her answer is definitive. "Johh, he's been there and done it," she said frankly.

While Sizing John might have some question marks hanging over him after coming home "clinically abnormal" when failing to fire in Leopardstown's Christmas Chase on his last run - which her trainer feels came too soon after his John Durkan Chase success - Kate has noticed a marked physical improvement 12 months on from his day in the sun.

Experience

"This year I actually think he's physically stronger than he was last year, he's more of a bull and a tank underneath you. He's really got the strength and the frame this year," Harrington remarked at her mother's Commonstown Stables yesterday.

"We probably let him down too much last summer just because he had had such a hard season, he's taken a lot to get the weight off this season and suddenly, his weight is coming right at the right time. We've been very hard on him the last three weeks.

"Now we're able to step back with him in the last week and he's really coming fresh. People are going to say he hasn't had a prep race but he's been there and done it, he has all the experience of Cheltenham as a novice hurdler and a novice chaser. He doesn't need the experience, we just need to get him there fit and fresh."

That's not to rule out another famous win for the Cooper family with Our Duke - who will have Gold Cup pilot Noel Fehily sit on his back today for the first time - and Jessica rates Might Bite as the chief danger to her pair as he is "the only one who hasn't blotted his copybook this year".

When trained by Henry De Bromhead, Sizing John had a goat living with him as "he's a bit of a worrier" whereas now he is housed beside "best friend" Supasundae - the horse which put Faugheen to the sword in the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month.

Supplementing the improving eight-year-old for the Champion Hurdle was never on the cards and instead the son of Galileo bids to turn the tables on Yanworth when they collide in the 3m Stayers' Hurdle - a win would complete victories in Cheltenham's Big Four for Harrington.

"He's a horse that really appreciates better ground in the spring of the year and I'd be hopeful that he can reverse form with Yanworth," the trainer said. "When he went to Aintree last season he had some hard races and a tough schedule. He was just a tired horse and was off the bridle the whole way, he did well to run as well as he did."

Harrington's team is completed by the unpredictable but classy Don't Touch It and last year's winner Rock The World, who will collide in the Grand Annual Chase with Harrington reporting both to be in "super form".

Irish Independent

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