Sizing John 'chugging along' ahead of Cheltenham Gold Cup defence after Leopardstown flop
Jessica Harrington is confident Sizing John will bounce back to his best when he defends his crown in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The eight-year-old provided the Moone-based trainer with a first runner and first winner in the blue riband last March and could hardly have been more impressive when slamming Djakadam on his seasonal reappearance in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase in early December.
However, he suffered his first defeat in six races when finishing a disappointing seventh in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown less than three weeks later and Harrington has spent the subsequent two months attempting to ensure he will show his true colours on March 16.
Speaking at a press morning at her yard on Tuesday, Harrington said: "We had a bit of a hiccup over Christmas, but since then we've been chugging along.
"We haven't done anything very quickly, but you saw this morning he tanked away and all he wanted to do was go past Supasundae.
"His weight is coming down to his racing weight that we like. We've not really put the gun to his head properly, but he did a good breeze on Monday and one this morning.
"He may go to Leopardstown either after racing on Monday or early Tuesday morning. He might jump a couple of fences there or we might just gallop him on the Flat.
"If he does it all on the bridle I'll be very happy as I don't want to put pressure on him. I want him on the day, not the day before and I don't want to be leaving anything behind."
A veterinary report revealed Sizing John to be clinically abnormal after his Leopardstown flop, although the root of the problem was never fully discovered.
Harrington added: "What does clinically abnormal mean? It covers a multitude of things.
"He'd overheated a bit. Whether that was from a slightly tying up or something, they never really found a reason.
"Once that had happened we were never going to run him again before Cheltenham as it would have been very rushed to get him to Leopardstown for the Irish Gold Cup.
"I think the race at Christmas probably came a bit soon after the Durkan. Maybe him and Djakadam had a harder race in the Durkan than either of us realised.
"It was one of those things. We started off the season great and then this goes and scuppers the thing, but if it was all plain sailing it would be much too easy!"
Sizing John is one half of a formidable twin assault for Harrington in the Gold Cup, with Our Duke a more-than-worthy opponent.
The strapping gelding was awesome in the Irish Grand National last spring and while he produced a listless display on his comeback at Down Royal, a creditable fourth in the Irish Gold Cup was a useful building block towards a recent triumph in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.
"He had a bad start this season when we discovered the problem with the kissing spines, but he came back and he's in good order," said Harrington.
"He would never have run in Gowran if he hadn't made the mistake in the Irish Gold Cup. The fact that he made the mistake and Robert (Power) gave him a chance to recover meant he didn't have a hard race.
"In the end the decision to go to Gowran was easy because I knew I really needed him to run again. He needed to go and jump and jump a bit quicker.
"He decided to bulldoze one fence out of the way, but once he'd done that he jumped the last three very well.
"He's only had seven runs over fences and I think he lacks a bit of concentration when they're not going quick enough. When he won the Irish National they went a good gallop and he never put a foot wrong.
"Robert is always saying he's got a high cruising speed."
With stable jockey Robbie Power committed to riding Sizing John due to his ties to late owners Alan and Ann Potts, Noel Fehily has been called up to partner Our Duke.
Harrington said: "You don't tell those good jockeys how to ride the horses.
"Noel will have done his homework and watched all his videos and he's actually coming over on Wednesday, weather permitting, to sit on him.
"My instructions (in the Gold Cup) will be, 'Go out, jump and come home in front!'"
Having already won the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle with Jezki and the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Moscow Flyer on two occasions, Harrington is keen to complete the set of championship races in the Sun Bet Stayers' Hurdle.
She issued an upbeat report on her candidate for the staying crown, Supasundae, who was last seen seeing off Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Harrington said: "He's very good. I can't complain about him and I kind of want to win the Stayers' Hurdle, to get the big four.
"Supasundae does what Supasundae does. He's always very laid-back, but he's a much better horse this year than he was last year.
"Last year you had to kick and beat him to go down towards the gallop and this year, all of a sudden, he's doing it easily within himself and he's travelling better in his races."
Asked whether she was ever tempted to supplement Supasundae for the Champion Hurdle, the trainer added: "Not at all, not when you've got Buveur D'Air there, who is a proper two-miler.
"I don't think Supasundae is a proper two-miler. Maybe he'll prove me wrong and we'll run over two miles at Punchestown, but we were always going the three-mile route and I have no doubts about the trip on good ground."
The five-strong Harrington squad bound for Cheltenham is completed by Don't Touch It and Rock The World, who will do battle in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase.
Rock The World claimed top honours in the race last year, while Don't Touch It is prominent in ante-post lists.
"Don't Touch It has got more class than Rock The World. He's won a Grade One hurdle, but he's a funny horse," said Harrington.
"He needs good ground and he'll have cheekpieces or may even have blinkers on him to make him concentrate.
"He's coming to himself. He's better this week than he was last week. He doesn't like the cold weather, it's as simple as that, but I couldn't predict anything with him.
"Rock The World is in great order. He's in super form, actually.
"He'll probably have top weight, but he's a big horse who can carry weight and he did it well last year. Hopefully he's in the same form this year."