Sizing John, the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, is expected to come out on top when he faces the 2015 victor, Coneygree, on Wednesday. Victory would complete the treble of Irish, Cheltenham, Punchestown Gold Cups for Jessica Harrington’s improving seven-year-old.
Coneygree, whose only run this season was at Haydock in November, is in good form according to trainer Mark Bradstock’s wife and assistant, Sara. “We all think he’s much better than he was going to Haydock [for the Betfair Chase],” she said. “I don’t think he was in bad nick going there, but it was difficult being trained on the all-weather and racing on heavy. Because he’s had so many injuries he has every right to be sensitive to changes like that.
“Nico [de Boinville, the jockey] said after his recent gallop at Ffos Las it was the first time since Cheltenham 2015 that he had felt like a Gold Cup winner. We are in slightly unknown territory with the ground, although one of the best races he ran was on good to soft in the Feltham at Kempton.”
Colin Tizzard added to his collection of Grade One races when Fox Norton, ridden by Robbie Power in the Sizing John colours of Alan Potts, beat Un De Sceaux and God’s Own in a thrilling finish to the Boylesports Champion Chase.
Un de Sceaux appeared to have Fox Norton’s measure three out, but the winner took the lead at the final fence and drew away.
“He was flat to the boards all the way,” said Power. “I didn’t want to give Un De Sceaux too much rope, but as soon as we turned in I knew we’d win. He’ll be a hard horse to beat in the Ryanair next year. Two miles is sharp enough for him now.”
Tizzard said: “I was more worried about this race. One or two people thought it was a step too far but he had two months off in the middle of the season. This is a different league for me, he’s a beautiful horse and he’ll stay any trip.”
Willie Mullins, who runs Djakadam in the Gold Cup, had a good day in his quest to retain his title, reducing Gordon Elliott’s lead by €150,000 to €250,000, the lion’s share coming with a one-two with Cilaos Emery and Melon in the Herald Champion Novices Hurdle.