JESSICA Harrington is relishing the prospect of defending her 100 per cent record in the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.
Sizing John’s victory last year in the colours of Barnsley-born owner Alan Potts, and his wife Ann, was her first runner in the iconic race.
And she hopes a successful defence of the Gold Cup will be the perfect tribute to the Potts, who have both died since the famous triumph.
The winner of last season’s Irish, Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cups, Sizing John made a winning comeback in the prestigious John Durkan Chase before disappointing in Leopardstown’s Christmas Chase three weeks later.
However, Harrington, Irish racing’s most successful female trainer, gave a bullish update yesterday about Sizing John, who is due to be opposed by stablemate Our Duke on March 16.
“We had a bit of a hiccough over Christmas, but since then we’ve been chugging along,” she said.
“We haven’t done anything very quickly, but you saw (yesterday 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 (yesterday 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 slightly tieing 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.”
Though jockey Robbie Power, who rode Sizing John to glory last year, is remaining loyal to the horse, Harrington was equally positive about the chances of Our Duke, who came to prominence when winning last season’s Irish National.
Though his jumping has been slightly more suspect this season, he has the stamina required to land a Gold Cup and big race rider Noel Fehily is one of the most respected, and experienced, horsemen on either side of the Irish Sea.
“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,” said Harrington.
“Noel will have done his homework and watched all his videos. 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 Stayers’ Hurdle.
She issued an upbeat report on her candidate for the staying crown, Supasundae, who was last viewed seeing off Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Supasundae, who was victorious for the Potts in Cheltenham’s Coral Cup last year, will be a formidable opponent to North Yorkshire challenger Sam Spinner from the yard of Jedd O’Keeffe.
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 laidback, 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.”