Haydock Park Racecourse and Betfair staged a media morning at Jessica Harrington’s yard at Moone, County Kildare in Ireland today ahead of the reappearance of Sizing John (5/2 with Betfair) in the £200,000 G1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on Saturday, November 25.
The seven-year-old enjoyed a fabulous campaign in 2016/17, when he scored a trio of G1 victories in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup. Sizing John was trained by Henry De Bromhead up until September, 2016, when he joined Harrington.
The Betfair Chase forms the first leg of The Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown, which offers a £1-million bonus to any horse who can win the Betfair Chase, the G1 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and the G1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 16.
It was the wish of Sizing John’s owner Alan Potts, who sadly died last week at the age of 80, to mount a challenge for The Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown with Sizing John. Alan owned horses in partnership with his wife Ann, who passed away in August after a long illness.
Jessica Harrington said today: “If Sizing John is as good as last year, I’ll be happy. Sizing John is seven, rising eight, and in theory horses should be at their optimum in their seven to eight season and then they slightly start to go downhill. My only worry is the three hard races last year might leave a mark on him but he had hard races the year before and seemed to come out of it very well.
“He is a very relaxed horse and his real strength is that he jumps chase fences at two-mile speed against three milers. When he lands, you can steady him up and go again.
“It was after Sizing John won at Leopardstown that we decided to go for the Gold Cup rather than the Ryaniar Chase at Cheltenham. I wasn’t as confident as Robert (Power, jockey) that he would stay in the Gold Cup because in three months he had gone from two miles to three miles and two furlongs.
“The Betfair chase is bound to be a very good race. The Jockey Club Triple Crown will be very, very hard to win. If it happens, it happens. It’s like the Lotto – if your first number doesn’t come up, you know your fate.
“If we get over the first hurdle at Haydock, we have to go to Kempton and take on Might Bite, who looked very good the other day, and Willie (Mullins) will probably send over Djakadam too, so there will be plenty to take him on.
“I have Sizing John as fit as I hopefully can and he seems in good form. He was throwing his head around after he worked yesterday and looks good this morning but you never know until you get them to the racecourse.
Reflecting on her association with Alan and Ann Potts, Harrington continued: “I only trained for Alan Potts for 18 months. It was fantastic for him to send me a couple of fillies in the spring last year and then said in the autumn he told me he was sending me Sizing John and Supasundae.
“Alan was very good to me and brought some nice horses into the yard. He allowed me to do what I wanted last season and was under a lot of stress with Ann not being well at all.
“The great thing was that Ann made it to Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown and France, which she loved. As Alan said at her funeral, Ann did everything she wanted to do. Ann loved the horses, she probably had more affinity with them than Alan did, although in making decisions Alan always put the horses first.
“Before Ann died, all the horses were changed to Ann and Alan Potts Limited partnership and I believe the plan is for the horses to continue to run until they get old, like myself.”
Sizing John’s jockey Robbie Power added: “The Betfair Chase is the starting point for Sizing John. He is ready to go and we couldn’t be happier with him.
“He went very well after racing yesterday and schooled around Naas the week before and jumped super. He felt good at Naas and even better yesterday, so he is coming right at the right time.
“I have ridden around Haydock a few times before so I can’t use that as an excuse! Sizing John is very versatile – he has G1 form over two miles so the flat track won’t inconvenience him at all. He has plenty of pace and stays really well.
“From the first time I rode Sizing John, I always thought he wanted further. I am not saying at that stage I thought he was a Gold Cup contender. It is amazing when you talk about confidence in a jockey or a sportsperson, I think horses also need confidence.
“Sizing John had been getting his arse spanked by Douvan over two miles and when he won the Kinloch Brae at Thurles, his work improved in the build-up to Leopardstown and then when he won the Irish Gold Cup, his work improved again. He really got his confidence back by getting his head in front.
“His work from Leopardstown to Cheltenham was something we hadn’t seen before – he just got better and better. The last couple of weeks before Cheltenham made me hopeful he would win the Gold Cup and it was just a question of whether he would stay the extra two furlongs. I was confident he would stay and the good ground was key – he is a good ground horse.”
Power is retained jockey for horses owned by Ann and Alan Potts Ltd running in Ireland, with Bryan Cooper riding the horses in Britain.
Power continued: “The arrangement with Bryan Cooper works out fine. If the arrangement hadn’t been made, I would have been at Cheltenham yesterday and missed two G2 winners here.
“It suits Bryan to go over to England and I have a fantastic stable here with Jessie. She has first call on me and as long as I’m riding and as long as she wants me, she will have first call on me.
“Jessie has been very loyal to me over the years and we have some fantastic horses here. I am happy to ride all of the Potts’ horses in Ireland – there are also horses with Mouse Morris, Jim Dreaper and Jimmy Mangan.
“Alan said he wanted to go for a million pound bonus and I said fair enough! Alan is unfortunately no longer with us but Sizing John was Alan and Ann’s pride and joy, he was the horse they loved the most. Wouldn’t it be great if he could go and do it for them?”
The media also visited the yard of Gordon Elliott at Longwood, Country Kildare. Elliott is set to run Outlander (10/1), owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, in the Betfair Chase.
Successful in the G1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown last season, he disappointed when 10th to Sizing John in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup but bounced back to form with a victory in the G1 JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal on November 4.
Gordon Elliott said today: “Outlander is a grand horse. He will probably travel over on Wednesday night and Jack Kennedy will take the ride.
“He had an operation for a kissing spine but it went grand and we got him back on track. We were just happy that he jumped a bit better on his first start of the season at Punchestown – it was a bit disappointing but I don’t think that he was fit enough.
“We put cheekpieces on him at Down Royal, when Jack gave him a great ride, and we are very happy with him.
“The Betfair Chase looks a good race but we will take our chance. He is in great form and bouncing. He looks great and we couldn’t be happier with him.
“If you go back to his Lexus run last season, it was very good. A lot of people fancied him as an outsider for the Gold Cup but he never jumped at all, which was obviously to do with his back.
“If he gets back to that Lexus run, he is good enough to line up at Haydock. The Down Royal run might not be strong enough form but his Lexus win would not be far off it. He can be a bit hit and miss, so hopefully he turns up on a going day.
“The heavier the ground, the better for Outlander. You have to respect Sizing John, Cue Card – when he is on a going day, he is brilliant - and Bristol De Mai. Every one of them in their own right is entitled to turn up but, if we get a bit of luck in running and everything works out, Outlander would have a good each-way chance.
“The chance of our lad winning the Triple Crown is very slim but, if you are not in, you can’t win so we will take our chance. I would love to have a horse good enough and Don Cossack on his day might have been the one, but it is hard to do.”
Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 13/8 Fav) is the 13/8 favourite with Betfair for Saturday’s race on the back of a half-length victory over stablemate Blaklion in the G2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on November 4.
The six-year-old has looked imperious in his two previous visits to Haydock Park, the most recent of which came in January when he sauntered to a 22-length success in the G2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase over Saturday’s course and distance.
Cue Card (Colin Tizzard, 3/1) is bidding to equal the great Kauto Star’s record of four Betfair Chase wins, having triumphed in 2013, 2015 and 2016. The hugely popular 11-year-old will be ridden by Harry Cobden for the first time.
The seven confirmations are completed by Tea For Two (Nick Williams, 10/1), who provided jockey Lizzie Kelly with her second G1 victory in the Betway Bowl at Aintree in April, Traffic Fluide (Gary Moore, 20/1) and Shantou Flyer (Richard Hobson, 50/1).
Betfair spokesman Barry Orr commented today: “It is shaping up to be another quality renewal of the Betfair Chase and, with rain forecast, the Gold Cup winner Sizing John has been deposed at the head of the market by Bristol De Mai, who is now 13/8 from 9/4.
“Cue Card is seeking a record equalling fourth victory in the race while Outlander has already won at the highest level this season so it should be a cracking race.”
The Betfair Chase – Betfair odds: 13/8 Bristol De Mai; 5/2 Sizing John; 3/1 Cue Card; 10/1 Tea For Two; 10/1 Outlander; 20/1 Traffic Fluide; 50/1 Shantou Flyer
EW 1/4 Odds 2 Places
The Jockey Club Triple Crown: 20/1 Sizing John, 80/1 Bristol De Mai, 14/1 Any Other Horse
Total Prize Money on Betfair Chase Day - £500,000