Robbie Power enjoyed a week to remember at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, booting home three winners for trainer Jessica Harrington, but it was Sizing John’s win in the Gold Cup which provided the rider with most satisfaction.
Aside from the prestige associated with capturing chasing’s blue riband, the victory also vindicated Power’s view that his mount could literally go the distance against the very best staying chasers.
Many pundits had expressed doubts over the Ann and Alan Potts-owned gelding’s stamina for the Gold Cup trip. Having spent most of his career race over two miles when under the care of Henry de Bromhead, he stepped up to two and a half mile after his seasonal debut for a victory in the Kincloch Brae Chase at Thurles. That was followed by a narrow win in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, but the success came in a race that tested speed more than stamina.
However, Power was always a believer, and those who heeded his advice on the Cheltenham preview circuit also had a St Patrick’s Day to remember.
Reflecting on the win on RTÉ 2fm’s Game on programme, the jockey told host Hugh Cahill: “It didn’t come as any great surprise to me or to Jessie.
“We’ve always held the horse in high regard.
“Since we’ve stepped him up in trip he’s unbeaten and I was quietly confident going that he would be good enough.
“It was great that our thoughts were justified.
“A lot of good Gold Cup winner have had Grade One form over two miles and he had that.
“I think a lot of people thought he wouldn’t stay because he’d been running over two miles for so long but we never had any doubt that he would stay.”
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Sizing John’s pedigree also buoyed Power’s confidence. His dam’s two best performances came over two miles and five furlongs and his half-sister Scholastica had scored over half a furlong further than that at Ascot, a track which clearly tests stamina.
Sire Midnight Legend had also produced stout stayers, most notably Midnight Chase and Seeyouatmidnight.
“His pedigree always said that he would stay further, being by Midnight Legend, who are usually stayers,” Power added.
“It took us a bit of time to get to know him. His homework, in his early days, wasn’t flash.
“When we went to Leopardstown over Christmas, I said to Jessie ‘we have to run this horse over further because he definitely stays’.
“We took the steps gradually; we went to Thurles, and then Mr and Mrs Potts were keen to have a runner in the Irish Gold Cup - they’d never had a runner in that race. It fitted in perfectly between Thurles and Cheltenham.
“I thought going to the Irish Gold Cup that he was a certainty. The ground wasn’t that heavy that day - it was just on the soft side. With what was in the field, I thought he’d take a lot of beating.”
In the Cheltenham feature itself, Sizing John was ridden with plenty of patience before making a big move on Native River and Djakadam after the third-last fence.
Reliving the closing stages on the 7-1 shot, Power said: “I knew going to the second-last that I’d Ruby covered on Djakadam. I was hoping he would lead me for a little bit longer, but he made a bad mistake at the second-last and my horse absolutely winged it.
“So then I’m left in front, and the whole way down to the last I knew the way he had jumped the second-last that I’d loads of horse left because he was very long at the second-last.
“Then it was just a case of one more good jump and hopefully he’ll last up the hill.
“To be fair to the horse, he galloped the whole way to the line.”