Sizing John’s Gold Cup triumph thrills Cheltenham

Jockey Robbie Power pumps his fist in delight after riding Sizing John to victory in the Gold Cup. Picture: David Davies/PA
Jockey Robbie Power pumps his fist in delight after riding Sizing John to victory in the Gold Cup. Picture: David Davies/PA
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All those years spent yearning, six seconds in total, four on the spin for Willie Mullins in the Cheltenham blue riband and along comes a first-timer to run off with the Gold Cup.

Jessica Harrington took 
possession of Sizing John only in the autumn after owners Ann and Alan Potts switched the seven-year-old from one Irish stable, Henry de Bromhead’s, to another.

The Gold Cup wasn’t even the target, Harrington trading up to three miles, two furlongs on a hunch after accepting that the two-mile market belonged emphatically to Mullin’s hitherto unbeaten champion 
Douvan before a hairline fracture of the pelvis brought him low in the Champion Chase on Wednesday.

The move up proved inspired, Sizing John positively steaming up the hill, as all champions must here, to claim the most open showpiece in years and see off 
Djakadam, who had led off the final bend.

“I cannot believe it, he was absolutely amazing,” said Harrington, pictured, the most successful female trainer in the history of the festival with ten wins. “He jumped so well and travelled. Robert [Power, jockey] said he wasn’t going round the inside but he did, and it’s thanks to him as he was the one who said he’d stay.”

A runner-up in the past two years, Djakadam had the race by the throat three from home, utterly set fair as they swung down the hill and looked favourite to claim a first Gold Cup for Mullins at the 18th attempt.

But when the final push came it was Sizing John who found the gas to reach for the stars, leaving Djakadam trailing in fourth behind Minella Rocco and Native River. “He jumped like a buck. He was amazing,” 
Harrington said.

Mullins was philosophical, as he might be having won the previous two races, the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle with Arctic Fire and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle with Penhill.

That double swept him to the top of the trainers’ table with six wins after carding zilch over the opening two days. A third on the spin would have meant so much with a horse that he felt was better prepared than ever.

“He looked to be going like a favourite should. Everything went right for him. We have no real excuses,” Mullins said. “That’s as good as he is, I think. He is still young enough to come back but it will be tough now. I thought this would be his year. Whether we look at different targets now I don’t know.”

Harrington was understandably thrilled with her second win at the festival, and most important of her career. “It’s a first runner in the race for me. I have never had any stayers before this. A big thank you to everyone at home. It’s a big team and everyone has been fantastic.”

For owner Potts, who made his fortune manufacturing sizing machines, hence the name, this was also a first. “It’s always been our dream to win this ever since we got into this game,” he said. “I invest heavily so we can pick the best horses. When you win a race like this it is unreal.”

A sentiment shared by jockey
Power, who added his first Gold Cup to the Grand National he won a decade ago.

“It is unbelievable,” he said. “Jessica is a genius. I always said that when Sizing John stepped up in trip it would be the making of him.

“It was ten years ago when I won the Grand National. I’m 35 now and appreciate this a lot more. This means more than any other winner I have ridden for Jessica.”

Later on, Bryony Frost partnered Pacha Du Polder to a narrow win in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup and hailed her “amazing” Cheltenham experience.

Pacha Du Polder was famously fifth under Victoria Pendleton 12 months ago, but this time Frost rode a confident race on the ten-year-old to lead home a one-two for trainer Paul Nicholls.

Wonderful Charm, ridden by Katie Walsh, came from the clouds to take second place, beaten a neck, with Barel Of Laughs another neck back in third and On The Fringe only fourth after winning the race for the previous two years.

Frost said: “It’s hard to describe, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’ve watched people ride winners here, but to actually be here in this enclosure is amazing. To jump the last and know you’re still travelling - and he tried all the way.

“I saw the head of Wonderful Charm and all I could think was ‘don’t deny me today’.”