Monday 19 February 2018

Sizing Europe has power to ruffle some feathers

Henry de Bromhead will hope the pace of the King George plays into his hands, writes John O'Brien

John O'Brien

THE talk is of a new chapter unfolding in jump racing's long and distinguished history and the compelling poetry of the most celebrated steeplechaser in modern times being piloted to glory by, arguably, the most celebrated rider of all time. A week after Tony McCoy was anointed as BBC Sports Personality of the Year, the sport girds itself to conquer new, uncharted territory: Kauto Star and the drive for five.

It is a narrative that suits those billed as mere footnotes in a history-laden enterprise. It was before six yesterday morning when Henry de Bromhead finally closed the door of Sizing Europe's horse box and set off on the road to Rosslare. At that point, De Bromhead couldn't be sure when the King George VI Chase would ultimately take place but, when it did, he was confident they would be there with a live chance.

De Bromhead is a naturally cautious figure who will appreciate the opportunity to bring his stable star to Kempton in such low-key terms. It was a relatively similar story when they travelled to Cheltenham in March to contest the Arkle Chase. The JP McManus-owned Captain Cee Bee was a warm favourite while late money poured in for the Henrietta Knight-trained Somersby, allowing Sizing Europe to race as a relatively unheralded third favourite.

"Everyone thought Captain Cee Bee was going to win that day," says Sizing Europe's regular partner, Andrew Lynch. "That suited us grand. We knew our horse was in good shape and was ready to do himself justice. It didn't matter what anybody else thought."

They understand, of course, why the race revolves around one horse. Kauto Star returns to his favourite hunting ground, a track where he has never been beaten and where his four King George victories have come with an accumulated margin of 63 lengths. A year ago, Kauto Star scraped home by a nose on his reappearance at Haydock before pulverising his 12 opponents in the King George. Looking for chinks in his armour is a laborious exercise.

"Kauto Star is a legend," says De Bromhead. "It's as simple as that. He's 20lb higher in the ratings and he had four lengths on us at Down Royal, which is a lot of ground to have to make up at level weights. If we're second or third, it will still be a great run."

Yet the widely quoted odds of 14/1 seem generous to a fault. For trainer and jockey the run behind Kauto Star at Down Royal nailed any doubts that Sizing Europe's stamina wouldn't carry him at least three miles on reasonable ground, yet the price seems predicated on those uncertainties. The question, though, isn't whether the horse stays so much as can he live with the best over an extended distance? Barring mishap, tomorrow should be conclusive in that regard.

What you should bear in mind about Sizing Europe is that, ever since De Bromhead and Alan Potts bought him as an unbroken foal from Hugh Bleahen, their notion of him was as a long-term staying chaser. The dream of unearthing a potential Gold Cup or Grand National winner was what drew Potts, a successful businessman, to racing. They bought a small lorry-load from Bleahen that day and, indisputably, Sizing Europe was the best of them.

Back then they had no reason to believe the horse would emerge as a serious contender in the best two-mile hurdle races and, then, at the minimum distance over fences. A tall, strongly-built horse blessed with relentless galloping power rather than raw speed should not have been able to cope with the Flat-bred speed horses over jumps, yet, more often than not, Sizing Europe proved a match for the best.

For De Bromhead, the AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January 2008, when he destroyed Hardy Eustace, stands out. "I remember talking to Conor O'Dwyer afterwards and he said he'd never gone faster on Hardy Eustace, yet our lad went away from him like he was standing still. Whether he can do that for a full three miles is a different story. There's only one way to find out."

It's no forlorn hope. As in the Arkle, Sizing Europe performs best when decent pace is injected into the race and the King George usually guarantees it. He travels and jumps better at speed and his connections' continued faith that he might yet emerge as a Gold Cup candidate is telling. If Kauto Star is vulnerable and history gets short shrift tomorrow, there is nothing else for them to fear anyway.

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