Sizing John shows horses may be more versatile than we think
Following the conclusion of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival we look at what we may have learned from the final day of the meeting
Don't pigeonhole horses when it comes to distance
Until two months ago Sizing John was a high-class two-miler. A talented and likeable chaser but seemingly not top class – and certainly not good enough to give the mighty Douvan a meaningful race, having been slammed on all seven occasions they met.
A year ago some would have harboured doubts as to whether Penhill would even prove effective over the minimum distance as a hurdler, such was his occasional tendency to race keenly over middle distances on the Flat.
However, since being stepped up in trip and campaigned as a staying chaser Sizing John now has an Irish Gold Cup and a Cheltenham Gold Cup to his name, while Penhill was a clearcut winner of a strong Albert Bartlett and is now a contender for Stayers' Hurdle honours next year.
In Australia it is not unusual to see legitimate Melbourne Cup prospects campaigned over a mile. Are we too quick to pigeonhole horses in Britain and Ireland?
Handicapping system will continue to deter British-trained runners from competing in Ireland
Five of the seven contests on the final day of the festival were won by Irish-trained runners, making for a remarkable 19 wins from 28 races for the raiding party and a resounding success in the BetBright Prestbury Cup. The BetBright Cup is a bit of fun, an ultimately meaningless sideshow, but seven wins from the ten festival handicaps does raise a potentially serious issue.
This success was achieved despite BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith making the majority of Irish horses run off a higher mark than they would have competed from at home. Ten races does not provide enough evidence to suggest the Irish handicappers are at an advantage racing in Britain off their revised marks – but it does show they would be thrown in if allowed to run off their Irish ratings.
Some of the most valuable handicaps in Europe are run in Ireland, such as the Galway Hurdle, but British trainers have an enormous task on their hands if they fancy having a crack at some of Ireland's big handicap prizes.
It is to the detriment of racing fans, and the sport, if British trainers – understandably – remain reluctant to send runners to Ireland.
Defi Du Seuil a legitimate Champion Hurdle contender
One of the interesting subplots to the Triumph Hurdle is finding out whether the British or Irish have the stronger crop of juveniles. Responsible for the second, third, fourth and fifth in this year's renewal, it is fair to suggest there may be greater strength in depth in the Irish ranks. However, Defi Du Seuil's performance left no doubt as to where the outstanding four-year-old is based.
Now unbeaten in six starts for Philip Hobbs, Defi Du Seuil took control of the Triumph while still on the bridle, and is clearly a top-class prospect and a major contender for open honours next season.