Competitors will have the chance to put forward their credentials for the Grand National in the challenge of the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner SizingJohn will be aiming to continue his strong form in the bid to add a second major crown to his collection.
However, there are a number of talented horses that will have their sights set on knocking him off course. Djakadam and Coneygree will challenge the bay gelding in Ireland, but will have to raise the level of their performance. It will be worth tracking their performances over the next few weeks before punting with sportsbet.io to see whether their challenge of Sizing John is credible.
The seven-year-old was the class of the field last season. He started the term on the periphery as although he produced solid displays, the Irish horse was a constant presence in the winners’ circle. Sizing John began the 2016-17 National Hunt campaign, finishing behind Douvan at the Paddy Power Cashcard Chase. There was no shame in losing to a horse of that calibre, who was considered the favourite for the event, but there was a question of whether Jessica Harrington’s charge could rise to the occasion.
Sizing John started 2017 in perfect fashion with a fine performance to win the Kinloch Brae Chase, seeing off race favourite Sub Lieutenant by two-and-a-half lengths. The victory sent him into the Irish Gold Cup with momentum and he proved a point at Leopardstown by defeating Don Poli among other talented competitors to claim the win by a narrow margin with a strong run down the stretch.
Harrington’s charge created a stir with his performance, but was still not considered the favourite for the Gold Cup behind Djakadam and Native River. However, after holding firm in the early stages of the race, the Irish horse came through the field before challenging with two fences remaining. His speed down the straight allowed the bay gelding to beat out Minella Rocco to claim the victory.
The seven-year-old ended the season on the highest of notes by beating out Djakadam again along with Coneygree in the Punchestown Gold Cup. On this occasion, Sizing John needed all of his pace down the final straight to beat out Djakadam as the French horse provided pressure, but Harrington’s charge just managed to close out the victory by a short head.
Djakadam had started the last campaign as the competitor striving for glory at Cheltenham. He finished second twice at the Gold Cup behind Coneygree in 2015 and Don Cossack a year later. The French horse began his 2016-17 National Hunt season with a victory at the Punchestown Chase, winning the race for the second year on the bounce, finishing ahead of Outlander and Sub Lieutenant. However, Outlander got his revenge at the Lexus Chase, while Don Poli also edged ahead of the Bay Gelding, forcing Willie Mullins’ charge to settle for third place.
Mullins would opt not to race Djakadam again until the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The decision would backfire as the eight-year-old lacked the pace at the crucial moment of the race when he could have pulled clear. However, a mistake two fences from the end allowed the pack to close and overtake him, with the French horse finishing outside of the top three. The bay gelding improved at the Punchestown Gold Cup, but again did not have the speed down the stretch to beat Sizing John. That will have to improve for him to enjoy success at the Lexus Chase.
Coneygree has seen limited action since winning the Gold Cup in 2015. The 10-year-old edged out Djakadam at Cheltenham by one-and-a-half lengths to win the crown. Since then, the bay gelding has competed four times due to injury that ruled him out of the majority of the 2016-17 season.
He returned at the end of the campaign and fared well against the French horse and Sizing John at the Punchestown Gold Cup. However, he could not sustain his pace down the stretch after leading the event, allowing Sizing John to snatch the win. His first race of the new campaign did not go to plan as Mark Bradstock’s charge pulled up at the tenth fence at the Charlie Hall Chase. Coneygree has the talent to defeat Sizing John, but has a challenge to rediscover his form of 2015 before the end of the month.