Sizing John clear favourite to defend Gold Cup crown after seeing off Djakadam
Apart from an uncharacteristic mistake at the second fence it was all plain sailing for last season's triple Gold Cup winner Sizing John in the John Durkan Memorial Chase as he notched a fourth consecutive Grade 1 win in Sunday's Punchestown showpiece.
Last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup hero is now a general 4-1 favourite to defend his crown in March after fending off old rival Djakadam by seven lengths with Sub Lieutenant, finishing third in the event for the second consecutive year, a further two and three-quarter lengths away.
Dropping down to two and a half miles for the first time since January, Sizing John was sent off the 2-1 second favourite behind Djakadam, who had won the last two runnings of the race.
In beating Djakadam for the third race in a row, Sizing John became the first horse since Kauto Star in 2007 to win a race over 2m5f or shorter the season after winning the Cheltenham centrepiece.
There was an early scare when Jessica Harrington's stable star made a mistake at the second fence, with Robbie Power having to regather his reins and get the seven-year-old back on an even keel.
From then on it was business as usual. Sizing John travelled supremely well and hit the front when the front-running favourite made a mistake on turning in, before cruising clear to win easily.
Harrington said: "He gave us all a fright when he made that mistake at the second, but apart from that he jumped very well.
"He travelled much better than he did in the Gold Cup here at the end of last season and that was good to see as he had three hard races last spring and we weren't sure how he would come back."
Connections had skipped last month's Betfair Chase at Haydock, where the ground was bottomless, in favour of this contest and their decision paid off in a big way.
Harrington added: "It wasn't his ideal ground but two and a half miles in those conditions is very different from three miles-plus on testing ground. Not going to Haydock was the right decision. Robbie said the horse gave a good blow at the back of the second-last fence.
"There is no firm plan for Christmas. He could go for the King George or the Leopardstown Christmas Chase and it's also possible he might miss Christmas altoegther.
"We'll wait and see how he comes out of today's race before deciding where he'll run next. The one definite plan is Cheltenham in March to try to win the Gold Cup again."
Harrington also remembered Sizing John's late owners Alan and Ann Potts. "It was only last Monday that we attended Alan's funeral and it is so sad that he and Ann are not still with us to see Sizing John start off another season on a high," she said.
Only a short head separated Sizing John and Djakadam in the Punchestown Gold Cup at the festival meeting in April but it was a very different story here.
Willie Mullins, trainer of the runner-up, said: "We can only hope that he'll improve for the run. We were beaten by a very good horse. I'd imagine the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, which used to be the Lexus, will be his next race."
GOLD CUP BETTING
Betfred 4 Sizing John, 6 Might Bite, 7 Yorkhill, 10 Bristol De Mai, Thistlecrack, 12 Native River, 14 Our Duke, 16 Coney Island, 20 Acapella Bourgeois, Disko, Whisper, 25 Djakadam, Minella Rocco, Road To Respect, Total Recall
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