The feature race of the Cheltenham Festival lived up to all expectations, as Jessica Harrington’s Sizing John claimed Gold Cup glory, beating Minella Rocco, Native River and Djakadam to the biggest prize in National Hunt racing.
This victory caps off an incredible transformation for Sizing John. As little as six months ago, the seven-year-old had spent the majority of his career following Douvan home in prestigious two miles contests. Today, he cantered around the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure as the Irish and English Gold Cup champion.
Lizzie Kelly’s history-making appearance on Tea For Two last barely 30 seconds as she was thrown from her saddle after just the second jump. Paddy Brennan and Colin Tizzard must have felt a horrible pang of déjà vu as crowd favourite Cue Card suffered the exact same fate that befell him last season, crashing to the turf at the third-last when never in winning contention.
Native River set a strong pace at the front of the field, accompanied by Champagne West. Djakadam looked to be travelling beautifully on the inside rail throughout the entire contest, bobbing along in confident fashion, before moving onto Native River’s shoulder with five to jump. Sizing John had made steady progress in midfield and followed Djakadam’s move to the front as the duo looked to pull clear of Native River down the home straight.Sizing John (left) clears the last in the lead, with Djakadam in hot pursuit.
Djakadam’s Gold Cup charge was halted abruptly as he clattered through second last fence. Sizing John took advantage of this mistake and pulled clear from his pursuers with the winning post firmly within his sights. Djakadam tried to recover and Native River, who came off the bridle sooner than all his rivals, battled on gamely to try and catch the winner. Minella Rocco made his customarily late charge after the last fence and tried in vain to catch the winner, but it wasn’t to be and Robbie Power celebrated as his mount crossed the line to seal a tremendous victory for trainer Jessica Harrington.
"He was absolutely fantastic... unreal" said Jessica Harrington, who attempted to express her emotions to the gathering gaggle of reporters.
Winning jockey Robbie Power was equally as staggered by his mount's achievements at first, but he later explained he always had confidence in Sizing John’s ability. "When you're on the best horse in the race things usually go perfectly for you."
Willie Mullins will have been saddened by Djakadam’s latest failed attempt, as he had talked up his charges chances more this year than on his previous two visits to Cheltenham. Colin Tizzard will have been proud of Native River’s effort back in third and Minella Rocco reinforced his quality and staying ability to snatch second, but today was all about Sizing John - a truly worthy winner of this most prestigious of titles and he is more than likely to return to Cheltenham to retain his Gold Cup crown in 2018.