Mullins relief as Douvan delivers
Like most National Hunt enthusiasts, Alan and Ann Potts crave a runner in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and dream to win it. Late last year they purchased a classy horse from France, called Alary, in an attempt to live that dream. Little did any of us know then, that they already had a Gold Cup contender in their string called Sizing John.
The much kicked around debate regarding the competitive nature of Irish racing was shelved at Leopardstown yesterday as the four Grade One races all went the way of different trainers, jockeys and owners.
Furthermore, the biggest race of the day, the Irish Gold Cup, saw five horses jump the final fence within a length of each other but it was Sizing John that saw out every yard of the three-miler and held on to deny the Gigginstown duo of Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli.
After winning the Kinloch Brae last month, the Ryanair and Gold Cup were posted as obvious targets but the quotes of 33/1 for the Gold Cup certainly don't exist any more and the horse that Jessica Harrington confirmed as the best ever three-mile chaser to go through her gate is now as short as 8/1 with yesterday's race sponsors, Stan James.
Nursing a fractured wrist that required "screws and plates" following a skiing accident, Jessica Harrington wasn't in any rush to nominate a race for Sizing John but did admit that he wouldn't be left in the Champion Chase at the next forfeit stage.
"That is my first runner in this race and obviously my first winner so I'm absolutely delighted," said the County Kildare trainer, who also won the concluding bumper with Someday.
"Alan (Potts) really wanted to win this race. I suggested we might come here and he said 'that's a race I'd love to win' so I don't know what the plan is yet, we'll just enjoy today and I haven't spoken to Alan or Ann yet.
On hearing the other Potts-owned Gold Cup entry, Alary, fell at Exeter just a few minutes prior to Sizing John's victory, Harrington seemed more pointed towards running in the Gold Cup next month but what his victory in yesterday's race proved is that he will be a force wherever he lines up next.
Given that Sizing John has now won one of Irish racing's most prestigious races, it would be fair if he hogged the limelight but few could resist mentioning Douvan in the aftermath and even Harrington herself brought up the Champion Chase favourite.
Nobody needs any further evidence as to just how good Douvan is but given that Sizing John has met him seven times and was beaten by 12 lengths, seven lengths, seven and a half lengths, 18 lengths, seven lengths, 22 lengths and eight lengths. You'd have to say Douvan is out of the ordinary.
Douvan's trainer, Willie Mullins, has had a tough couple of weeks with Getabird the latest to be scratched from his Cheltenham list, but given the recent injuries, his quest for a fifth straight win in the Grade Deloitte Novice Hurdle saw him saddle six of the 10-runners and win it with Bacardys.
Ridden by his son, Patrick, Bacardys now looks a very interesting contender for the Albert Bartlett, while Mullins also saddled the runner-up, Bunk Off Early, who should give Supreme Racing Club a big day out in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Gordon Elliott continued his pursuit for a first trainer's title by winning the first of the Grade One race's with Triumph Hurdle bound, Mega Fortune.
The juvenile did the hard work from the front under Davy Russell and seemed to relish the softer conditions, change of tactics and application of cheek pieces as he reversed form comprehensively with Bapaume.
While Elliott chases down a first trainers championship, for which he again claimed to have "no chance" of winning when asked by the media yesterday, a former champion trainer, Noel Meade, continued his fine season by landing more top honours, this time with Disko.
Given an absolutely top class ride by Sean Flanagan from the front, Disko reversed the form with Our Duke to book his Cheltenham ticket and give Flanagan a first ever Grade One winner.
Gigginstown's retained rider Bryan Cooper hopes to return to action next weekend and Disko is just another of the Cheltenham bound horses he has to look forward getting back on.