Sizing John completed an unprecedented treble here on Wednesday evening as he added the Grade One Punchestown Gold Cup to his victories in the Gold Cups at Cheltenham and Leopardstown in recent weeks. It was not so much the scale of the chaser’s achievement as the manner of it which left the deepest impression, however, as Coneygree, the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, and the valiant Djakadam both played huge roles of their own in what many will remember as the race of the season.
Sizing John got up in the final stride to beat Djakadam by a short-head with Coneygree a length and a half further away, but only after Coneygree had travelled and jumped for most of the race with the same zest and excellence that made him a Gold Cup winner as a novice. Mark Bradstock’s 10-year-old, unraced since November, was the favourite in-running with six fences to jump and, had it not been for a slow jump at the second-last, it could have been a three-way fight all the way to the line.
It was Djakadam, the runner-up in this race for the last two seasons, who led over the last, taking off a fraction of a second in front of Sizing John and Coneygree. Coneygree was the first to give way but Robbie Power still needed to throw everything at Sizing John to force his nose in front in the shadow of the post.
“There was no hiding place out there, as you would expect with Coneygree in the field,” Power said. “And full credit to his connections because he has run some race after a long lay-off.
“I was never that happy. Sizing John was off the bridle and felt a bit flat, to tell you the truth. He was a bit slow at the second-last but he got his head down after that. He had a hard race at Cheltenham and he is only a seven-year-old, but he dug deep when he had to.”
Sizing John’s win was the latest chapter in the story of Power’s half-season of a lifetime, after 16 years as a very capable jockey who only rarely had an opportunity to shine in the sport’s major events. There was a gap of more than two years between the first and second Grade 1 wins of his career and almost three between the second and third but he has now taken his career total to 17 wins at the highest level, eight of which have arrived since December.
“For a horse to win three Gold Cups, at Leopardstown, Cheltenham and now here, it’s never been done before and it will probably never be done again,” Power said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s been an unbelievable time. It’s one day at a time in this game, but I’m riding the crest of a wave at the moment and it’s fantastic.
“That’s eight [Grade 1s] this season and the Irish Grand National as well. Someone said to me, ‘could you ever imagine this?’ I said ‘you’d need some imagination’.”
Nico de Boinville, Coneygree’s jockey, felt his slow jump at the second-last might have been decisive. “You had to ask for it there,” de Boinville said. “I think with a bit more ease in the ground, he’d have come to me on that stride. On slower ground, he could have been the horse we all remember.
“But all credit to the Bradstocks and their team getting him back to within a length of a Gold Cup winner. This showed his spirit, that he still wants to do it. He can mix it in Grade 1 company and that’s all we need to know.”
Earlier on the card, Champagne Classic was an unexpected winner of the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle as he stayed on well to beat Penhill, the winner of the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, by two-and-a-quarter lengths.
Penhill raced a long way from the pace, as he had at the Festival, and was still last of the eight runners with just half a mile to run. He then made steady progress towards the lead under Ruby Walsh but did not have the finishing speed to find a way past Champagne Classic, who gave Gordon Elliott a vital success as he attempts to hold the late charge of Willie Mullins and win the Irish trainers’ title for the first time.
Elliott started the day with a lead of (euros) 260,000, after a good opening day for Mullins when the defending champion gained nearly (euros) 150,000 on his rival. Djakadam’s second place in the feature event added to Mullins’s earlier gains on Wednesday as C’Est Jersey let home a 1-2 for the yard in the Louis Fitzgerald Hurdle. Elliott, though, took the card’s Grade 1 bumper with Fayonagh, who also won the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last month, padding out his lead to more than (euros) 300,000 once again.
At Epsom, the favourite Cracksman was caught in a pocket with two furlongs to run in the Investec Derby Trial, but Frankie Dettori managed to find a way out and then get up in the final stride to beat Permian by a short-head and give John Gosden his third consecutive success in the race.
Cracksman runs in the same colours as Gosden’s 2015 Derby winner Golden Horn and is now around 10-1 for the Classic on 3 June, but will be given another run in one of the more recognised Derby trials after this narrow success in a race that has not produced a subsequent Derby winner since 1939.
“They went no pace and he was truly shut in and couldn’t get out,” Gosden said. “I was delighted how he picked up.
“I did say to the owner before, this horse is pretty laid-back and very inexperienced on the track. I think with more pace he would have won easier [but] I like the fact he finished strong. He will come on a bundle for it.
“We will go for another run. Whether it is Chester or York, we will see how he comes out of the race.”
Thursday’s tips, by Greg Wood
1.40 Bosham 2.10 Royal Crown 2.45 Weloof 3.15 Fleetfoot Jack 3.50 Correggio 4.25 Pacharana 5.00 Rinaria
5.25 Bamako Du Chatelet 5.55 Historic Event 6.30 Zac Brown 7.05 Raucous (nb) 7.40 Outer Space 8.15 Shaiyem (nap) 8.45 Arabian Hope
4.35 Gris De Pron 5.10 My Little Cracker 5.45 Muthabir 6.20 The Yank 6.55 Ultimatum Du Roy 7.30 Wish In A Well 8.00 Country’N’Western
2.00 Top Ville Ben 2.35 Valseur Du Granval 3.05 Louloumills 3.35 Chain Of Beacons 4.10 Full Shift 4.45 Hello George 5.20 Starplex
1.50 Prince Mahler 2.20 Cabernet D’Alene 2.55 Hermarna 3.25 Volpone Jelois 4.00 Lined With Silver 4.30 Cockney Wren 5.05 William Money