Gold rush for Power
Harrington secures historic hat-trick as Sizing John shows his mettle
IN the end, a dead-heat would perhaps have seemed fairest of all, but the sheer class and will of an on-a-high Sizing John was decisive as he repelled the doughty Djakadam in a Punchestown Gold Cup that will live long in the memory.
Given the brick wall that staying Grade Ones have become in Djakadam’s life, there was no shortage of Punchestown patrons in a crowd of 19,366 willing that this would be his day. For so long it seemed it might. Indeed, Sizing John, the 9/10 favourite, was exhibiting signs of anxiety that Robbie Power picked up on before anyone.
Asked if the horse was not travelling as well as he might down the back, the 35-year-old rider said: “He wasn’t travelling a lot earlier than that. He had a hard race at Cheltenham, a tough season, and he deserves a break. He wasn’t the same horse today and his class got him through.”
Coneygree led for most of the way, yet was headed two out, only to rally again coming to the last. It was at this point that Djakadam made a crucial mistake, which may or may not have cost him as his record in Grade Ones over three miles or farther became a sorry nought from eight. Ruby Walsh would later get two days’ ban for his ride.
It was far from a catastrophic mistake from Djakadam but it soon returned to memory as Sizing John got up and prevailed by a short head, though it seemed he was holding the winner at the wire.
Jessica Harrington, training the first ever horse to win the Irish, Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cups in the same season, said: “Pure guts got him there. They made him go (Coneygree and Djakadam) in a serious way; they went some gallop. He’s also pulled off a front shoe so he had lots of excuses.
“Robbie is riding out of his skin. He sees the strides at fences. He has great faith, instils confidence into the horse.”
Power has now won six Grade Ones in under six weeks for Alan Potts, having snared the big one here on Tuesday with Fox Norton, and he doubled up in the handicap chase yesterday aboard 14/1 shot Sizing Granite.
It was a day when Willie Mullins’ title challenge may have run aground, though he carries on with defiance. By the time the champion produced the first two home in the €25,000 novice hurdle, Gordon Elliott wore an apprehensive expression. A minor act but every little helps and Paul Townend had a willing partner in 7/1 C’est Jersey, ridden aggressively but always holding Battleford.
“He’s disappointed us all year and the other morning on the gallop David Casey rode him and he flew,” Mullins revealed. “I said to Ruby we’re going to put blinkers on him because he’s obviously well able to do it but he’s just not doing it on the racetrack.” Unfortunately for Ruby, he stuck with Battleford even so.
However, Elliott had much of his confidence back when the Grade One novice hurdle went to 14/1 Champagne Classic and he took the Grade One Bumper too.
Absurdly disregarded after his Cheltenham win as "the worst horse I have" by Michael O'Leary, Champagne Classic was able to hold off the favourite Penhill and Ruby Walsh, likely because the race seemed to suit those ridden handy.
"I'm surprised he won but he's a nice horse and he's going to be a nice chaser. He keeps trying and he seems to like that better ground," Elliott said.
So bullish was Elliott now, he said when asked about Labaik, the obstinate grey declared for tomorrow's Champion Hurdle: "He'll definitely run and he'll definitely jump off."
And things got better for the stable when Fayonagh produced a brilliant effort in the Champion Bumper, though there were some notable flops in behind. Ridden prominently by Jamie Codd, she had matters under control for most of the race and stretched away at 11/8f to score by five and a half lengths.
"She looks very good," said Elliott. "We don't gallop her a lot at home as she's very buzzy. She does all her work on the track.
"Jamie bought her, he rode her and so big thanks have to go to him. We've schooled her at home and she's very good at jumping. A summer's grass will do her the world of good."
Codd is almost over the line in his battle to win the amateur riders' title - now five clear of Patrick Mullins - yet this victory, allied to theirs in the Cheltenham Bumper when the mare came from what looked a hopeless position, was extra sweet.
"She won at Naas," the Co Wexford native said, "and then she went to Tattersalls Cheltenham sale. The owners asked me to pick out a filly for them. She cost about £64,000 and she's turning out cheap now I'd suppose."
Rather true to how this year has gone, it was a day of doubles for Potts, Elliott, Power, Codd and Harrington, the Moone trainer supplying Magic Of Light to grab the well-fancied Blast Of Koeman on the wire in the first.
"Fair play to Mrs Harrington for giving me the ride. I go in there one morning a week," said Ryan Treacy after steering the 11/1 chance home.
Racing concluded with a mares' Grade Three bumper, in which Codd's win over Mullins Junior in a driving finish left the gap between his dad and Elliott at an unlikely €276,780.
Codd was superb again on 11/4f Minutestomidnight, which had half a length to spare over Mullins' Mystic Theatre for trainer Jonathan Sweeney.
Mullins' title hopes rest on him winning at least two of three senior Grade Ones up for grabs.