Lynch: Sizing is pure class
ANDREW Lynch is just 12 winners off emulating his best ever tally of first places in Ireland for a season: 47.
However, if for some dramatic reason he doesn't manage that, this campaign will still have very fond memories.
In the space of 10 weeks from early December to mid-February, Lynch collected a haul of Grade Ones that any jockey would appreciate in a career, never mind such a short period of time.
What was even more unique about the collection of six Grade One races was that each one was for a different trainer -- something that even the likes of Ruby Walsh would be pleased with.
All that will pale into insignificance over the next few days, though, as Cheltenham takes over and Lynch will be reunited with four of this season's Grade One winners over the next three days.
It was no surprise who he was most looking forward to over the week and Lynch told the Herald: "Sizing Europe is the one I am looking forward to the most, and even if I could only ride one horse all year, Sizing Europe is the only horse I'd like to ride.
"He jumps, he travels, he keeps travelling, and he is just a class horse, so he is."
When steering Sizing Europe to victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase 12 months ago, he was a 10/1 shot who was beaten on his previous three outings.
Tomorrow, Sizing Europe is likely to be odds-on and comes back to one of his favourite tracks on the back of three wins. Despite the contrasting situations, Lynch feels no different on the eve of this year's meeting than any other.
"When you are riding for Ann and Alan Potts, they don't really put any pressure on you. They just say go out and enjoy yourself and have fun. Alan always says as long as you are having fun, everything will happen for you. It's more excitement now more than anything."
As exciting as it is to be competing at the top level here, you cannot beat winning, and the apple of Lynch's eye has been keeping him up to his work recently.
"Sizing Europe is in great form, he worked up the Old Vic gallop on the Curragh last Monday -- he actually ran away with me -- so he's in great order. We gave him a pop last Thursday and he jumped well so he seems to be in great order going there.
"This time last year he hadn't won going there and this year he has won three. Whether he has improved or not, I'm not sure but he is in better form anyway and if he performs as he has been doing all season it will take a fair one to beat him."
Robbie Hennessy's Rubi Light triumphed in Punchestown's Grade One John Durkan Chase back in December and comes into Cheltenham after recently winning the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.
The Ryanair Chase is again his target after surprising many by finishing third in it at 16/1, although he was much bigger, not so long before the off.
"You could say he was a novice last year. He was third on good ground and I'd say if it was softer ground he might have won. He has definitely improved for this year, but it is a better race so I'd still be slightly worried about the ground."
All known weather forecasts suggest the heavens around Cheltenham are bolted shut for the next few days, so the deluge of rain Rubi Light would relish is unlikely.
The ground may be Lynch's "only concern" about Rubi Light, but it appears a big one. "If it was soft ground I'd be a lot more confident."
Lynch isn't one to keep you talking, but what he says is straight and he is a realist. Of Rubi Light's seasonal debut when he had Sizing Europe beat but for a fall at the last, he said; "I wouldn't read too much into that race as Europe nearly fell a couple of times, slipping into fences, but if you were to strictly go on that form you'd say Rubi is a certainty! I'd definitely be happy to see him run into a place again."
Colm Murphy's Voler La Vedette put a valuable, and much deserved Grade One on her portfolio this season, but nobody is underestimating the task of toppling Big Buck's.
"Voler La Vedette is in great form. She should be unbeaten this year -- we got it wrong in Gowran Park," he says with a hint of regret in his voice.
"Obviously with Big Buck's, Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars it's going to be a good race but I definitely think she is going to run a big race, especially getting the mares' seven-pound allowance which makes a big difference.
"If someone told me today I would be second to Big Buck's, I'd be thrilled, but it's a horserace and you can never be afraid of one horse."
Success in racing certainly does breed success and Lynch's red-hot form this year has seen him employed by Ireland's winning-most trainer, Dermot Weld.
On Friday, Lynch will partner Hisaabaat in the JCB Triumph Hurdle and his rider said: "I think he'll run a good race. He's a Grade One winner yet people say he was lucky to win the last day at Leopardstown, but I don't think he was.
"I think he'll put up a good show, good ground will suit him and the strong pace will suit him. It is competitive but it's just hard to know how good the English horses are. Even the betting suggests there is seven or eight of them with chances but I wouldn't get off my lad for anything else in the race."
Also on Friday, Lynch will have his first ride in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, albeit on an outsider. The race is wide-open outside the top two, however.
"He was running a good race in the Hennessy the last day but he galloped through the second last and I think he scoped bad as well, so if everything fell right and he ran into the first six, I'd be happy."
Connections of both his other Grade One winners from this season, Cash And Go and Flemenstar, opted against making a trip to the Cotwolds this time around.
However, the Meath native is hopeful that the latter of those two will be here in 12 months time.
"I'd hope he'll turn into a Gold Cup horse. He was very good at Naas on Sunday and he jumps savage, and travels real well. I'd see no problem with him getting the trip next season and he's very exciting.
"Peter (Casey) is only about 15 minutes from me so it was brilliant to ride a Grade One winner for them as I have rode a good bit for them over the years and they've done a great job with him."
Edward O'Grady's Sailors Warn in the County Hurdle got a favourable mention as Lynch claimed: "He ran well in the big handicap at Newbury but probably got to the front a bit soon so I'll be holding onto him a bit longer."
Riding for the likes of Weld and O'Grady is a superb compliment to the 27-year-old, who described it as "unbelievable" and he was thrilled to ride Grade One winners for Henry de Bromhead and Robbie Hennessy who "have both been very good to me over the years".
"I've had six Grade One winners this year. To get one or two in a single season is incredible, but to get six ... " he said, with a pause as there wasn't a superlative to conclude the sentence.
A demon for punishment at times, his hard work and perseverance have not only paid off, but could be shown as an example to any fledgling jockey.
"I don't like saying no to people. I love schooling horses and riding work so I try to keep myself busy and thankfully this year it is paying off, although it does feel like I'm forever in the car at times."
The long miles behind a wheel are made worthwhile by the unbeatable welcoming of a Cheltenham Festival winner, something Lynch has experienced, and could well again this week.