Sizing John became the first horse to win the win jump racing’s three Gold Cups – the Irish, Cheltenham and Punchestown – on Wednesday but Jessica Harrington’s seven-year-old had to pull out all the stops to beat Djakadam and Coneygree a short-head and a length and a half in the race which must be strong contender for race of the season.
Turning in running down to the penultimate fence, after Coneygree had set a deceptively strong pace, any one of the three could have won. Nico de Boinville needed a big one there from Mark Bradstock’s tiring 2015 Gold Cup winner having his first run for 158 days to stay in the hunt but he stumbled on landing.
Sizing John also made a mistake there which handed the advantage to Djakadam but Ruby Walsh’s mount landed steeply over the last which let Sizing John back in and in a thrilling finish to the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup it was Robbie Power’s mount, showing tremendous bravery, who finally pegged Djakadam back yards from the line.
Power has been riding on the crest of a wave. It was his eighth Grade One of the season, almost doubling the tally for the whole of the rest of his career. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the horse,” he said. “Djakadam missed the last which gave us a chance. My lad got his head in front and tried his heart out. Ruby thinks the last cost him but the second last cost me a length.”
He continued: “I was worried even before we got down the back. That’s the end of a long season for you. For a horse to win all three Gold Cups is a very hard thing. I don’t want the season to end for myself but I do for the horse - he needs a break. It’s been four week, six weeks, it takes a fair horse to do that and he’s only seven.”
Harrington, whose horses have been in outstanding form since Cheltenham, said: “He was so tough. Robert said he was never travelling. It’s his fifth race since Christmas. He had to be brave and he stayed every yard of it.
“It was a proper race and Coneygree went a hell of a gallop from flag-fall. Everything was against him but he put his head down and battled. It was sheer guts. He’s going on his holidays now and we will see where we go next season.”
The Coneygree camp were delighted to have their 10-year-old back. “I had to ask him at the second last and I think with a bit more ease in the ground he’s have come for me,” explained de Boinville.
“All credit must go to the Mark and Sara for getting him back to within a length and a half of the Gold Cup winner. He can still mix it in Grade One company and that’s all we need to know.”
Mark Bradstock was delighted. “He’s a dude,” he said. “Let’s hope he’s sound in the morning. We’ll find out on Thursday whether he’s back or not.”
Having reduced Gordon Elliott’s title lead to 250,000 on Tuesday Willie Mullins lost ground on him on Wednesday and the deficit stood at 310,000 on Wednesday night. He had no complaints about Djakadam’s narrow defeat though. “Jessie’s in such good form she can’t be beaten at the moment,” he said.
Thursday's highlight is the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle which sees the first three home from Cheltenham, Mullins’s Nichols Canyon, Lil Rockerfeller and Unowhatimeanharry line up with a few others thrown in for good measure including Elliott’s improving Sutton Place, who tackles the trip for the first time, and last year’s winner One Track Mind.