Jessica Harrington 2018 Cheltenham Festival Stable Tour

By Johnny Ward
Tue 27 Feb 2018

By Johnny Ward at Commonstown Stables, Moone

Jessica Harrington won the Timico Gold Cup with her first runner in the form of Sizing John 12 months ago at Cheltenham and, remarkably, goes there 12 months later with two massive chances.

Jessica Harrington Stable Visit Sizing John leading the way on Jessica Harrington's gallops on Tuesday (PA)
LISTEN: Jessica Harrington on her 2018 Cheltenham team
LISTEN: Robbie Power talks to Mike Vince

Sizing John will bid to defend his crown, and she has Irish National winner Our Duke, the mount of Noel Fehily, too. Not only that, she provides the antepost favourite in one of the other championship events, the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle – Supasundae her contender there.

A couple in the Grand Annual – last year’s winner Rock The World and another leading fancy in Don’t Touch It – advertise her emphasis on quality over quantity.

When asked at her stables on Tuesday why would she not have more runners, she said: “We’ve a couple of mares, for example, that are classy but they are too highly strung to go to Cheltenham yet.”

“It is hard to keep these horses right, and in the right frame of mind,” she stressed in relation to her two Gold Cup hopes.

One thing that she did get energised about here in Moone, County Kildare on a bitterly cold morning was who Robbie Power would pick in the big one – in that there was no choice.

She said: "It is a complete non-story (who Robbie would ride) – he is contracted by Alan and Ann Potts to ride their horses. Provided they both get there, he rides Sizing John.

"There was never a story there. He was always going to ride their horses, especially if they were trained by me. What I try to do is follow what Alan and Ann always wanted. They also always said they’d give horses time.”

Sizing John - Timico Gold Cup:

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He tanked away in his work this morning; all he wanted to do was get past Supasundae. His weight is coming down to exactly what we want it to be at - we still have two weeks and more to get there.

He may go to Leopardstown next week, where he may jump a couple of fences or where we may just gallop him on the flat. We are just going to see what the weather does. We worked him yesterday because we were not sure what was going to happen. We are on song with him. He seems to be in good form, he’s shaking his head and doing his bits and pieces.

He had over-heated a bit at Leopardstown (when seventh in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase). We never found a particular reason. We let him right down to get (his temperature) back up again. He was never going to be rushed to get to Leopardstown (in February) so we left it be with a view to Cheltenham. I think (Leopardstown at Christmas) probably came a bit soon after the John Durkan than we realised, the same with Djakadam.

2017 Cheltenham Festival - Gold Cup Day - Cheltenham Racecourse Sizing John bids to become the first horse to successfully defend his crown in the Gold Cup since Best Mate in 2003 (PA)

We signed off last season great and this scuppers it but if it were all plain sailing it would be much too easy. He’s good. The gun hasn’t been properly put to his head, a good breeze yesterday and this morning, but one nice racecourse gallop and if he does it all on the bridle I’ll be very happy.

How do I view the opposition? I hate every single one of them! It is going to be very competitive. The one who hasn’t blotted his copybook is Might Bite, the young improving horse. You’ve Edwulf there, there are a lot of horses going there with a chance. It depends who performs on the day.

Our Duke - Timico Gold Cup:

The Easter Festival - BoyleSports Irish Grand National Day - Fairyhouse Races Our Duke is a best-priced 10-1 for the Gold Cup (PA)

Last year after he won his Grade One we decided to wait for this year with a view to Cheltenham. He had a bad start to the season and we discovered his problem with a kissing spine. He came back and looked good at Gowran (when beatig Presenting Percy in the Red Mills Chase).

He is in good order, a big strong horse like Sizing John. He ran at Gowran because he had made the mistake at Leopardstown – he would otherwise have had a hard race at Leopardstown. Robert (Power) gave him a chance to recover, he pinged the last and galloped to the line.

The decision to go to Gowran was then easy. I really needed him to run again. He needed to jump a bit quicker. He has had few chases, four last season, three this season, most horses do that in one season – he’s done it in two. At Gowran, he decided to bulldoze one fence but jumped the last three very well. I think when they are not going quick enough he lacks concentration but when they went a good gallop in the Irish National he didn’t put a foot wrong.

Robert always says he has a high cruising speed and he does not concentrate when below that cruising speed. You don’t tell those good jockeys how to ride the horses and Noel (Fehily) will sit on him tomorrow (Wednesday) weather-permitting. As for instructions, it’s a case of ‘go out and jump, come home in front!’

Cheltenham? Well, he has won going left and right, Gowran is rolling a bit like Cheltenham. I think he does like good ground and he hated it at Gowran - the other extreme. Most Oscars like good ground.

(As for tactics) I don't know, it depends on what's up there, you've Might Bite and Native River. You could just sit in behind.

Supasundae - Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle:

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He runs in the Stayers’ Hurdle – there’s no temptation to supplement him with Buveur D’Air (in the Champion).

I don’t think he is a proper two-miler. Maybe he will prove me wrong if I run him over two miles at Punchestown but I am pretty certain he will stay. It was always the plan. I don’t think stamina will be any problem.

I can’t complain about him. He is always very laid-back. He is a much better horse this year. Last year you’d have to (cajole) him to get him to go down the gallop. Everything was making him doing it. This year he is doing it easily within himself, travelling much better and jumping much better. Whether it’s confidence, he just seems to be much better. He really wants good ground. He hates pulling himself out of soft ground.

I think he can turn the tables on Yanworth as at Aintree last year he'd had some hard races. I was so cross at him after he ran in a handicap hurdle last season at Christmas – he ran in one and didn’t do anything – I sent him out three days later and he won at Punchestown. Then he had two hard races in graded company, to jump quicker with a view to the Coral Cup. He’d had four races between Christmas and Cheltenham. He was a tired horse at Aintree. He was off the bridle all the way and did well to put it up to Yanworth and get run out of it.

He won’t have to be up there or make his running, the last twice he made it or was near Faugheen. Over three miles he can be dropped in and he will pick up. He only dosses and looks around him when he is out in front.

If Apple's Jade had made the running, and I thought she would have, that would have been much easier. Even when he beat Faugheen he didn’t do much in front.

Don’t Touch It - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual:

He runs in the Grand Annual. He has more class than Rock The World – he has won a Grade One hurdle. He is funny, he needs good ground and he will have his cheekpieces or even blinkers on to make him concentrate.

He is coming to himself, better this week than last week. He doesn’t like the cold weather. (As for the hill), you get inside his mind! I couldn’t predict anything with him. He’ll be grand if you get into a rhythm with him, he’s a fine jumper but he can be spooky at times. Depending on the weights, he’s a classier horse and younger than Rock The World.

Rock The World - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual:

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He goes for the Grand Annual too. He is in really good form. I know he will likely have top weight but he did it well last year. The weight won’t make too much difference to him in that he is so big. He has been there and done it.

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