Sizing John ready for big comeback in high-quality John Durkan

Ireland's freshly crowned Horse of the Year Sizing John begins the march towards his Cheltenham Gold Cup defence on Sunday with Jessica Harrington convinced she made the right move in forfeiting his £1 million Triple Crown chances by skipping the Betfair Chase to save the ammunition for Punchestown.

Sizing John, who took the top accolade at the 15th Horse Racing Ireland Awards at Leopardstown on Tuesday, swerved heavy ground at Haydock but he will not be avoiding tough opposition on his first start in more than seven months in the John Durkan Memorial Chase.

Djakadam, fourth at Cheltenham but just a short head behind Sizing John in the Punchestown Gold Cup and seeking a John Durkan hat-trick, will be among those standing in the way as Sizing John goes back to two and a half miles for the first time since winning the Grade 3 Kinloch Brae Chase in January.

Bookmakers Betfair Sportsbook were on Tuesday unable to split the pair, making them both 9-4 ahead of 11-4 chance Disko.

Speaking at the HRI Awards, Harrington said: “We’re very happy with Sizing John and the John Durkan is the plan. We decided against sending him to the Betfair Chase and I think that was the right decision.

“We’re not looking beyond Sunday’s race at this stage. We haven’t taken him out of the King George but we won’t be making any plans until we get the Punchestown race out of the way.”

Jessica Harrington with daughters Emma (left) and Kate (right) and jockey Robbie Power after accepting Sizing John's Horse of the Year award
Jessica Harrington with daughters Emma (left) and Kate (right) and jockey Robbie Power after accepting Sizing John's Horse of the Year award
Chris Bellew/Fennell Photograph
Sizing John, who became the first horse to win the Irish Gold Cup, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Punchestown Gold Cup in the same year, was the cornerstone of a stunning season for Harrington that was recognised at the HRI Awards.
As well as his Horse of the Year title, Harrington made it a dream double for the yard by becoming the first female trainer to win the National Hunt Award.

After collecting her award, she said: “If anyone had said to me this time last year that we would have the spring we had, I would have sent them to the funny farm.

“We had an unbelievable run with Sizing John winning three Gold Cups, Our Duke winning the Irish Grand National, Supasundae winning the Coral Cup and Rock The World winning the Grand Annual. You go racing some days with a lot of expectation and quite often things don’t work out as you'd hoped but we had a super run.

Paying tribute to Ann and Alan Potts, the owners of Sizing John, who both died in recent months, Harrington said: “It’s very sad that Ann and Alan are no longer with us but they have left a great legacy behind them. The Cheltenham Gold Cup was the race Alan always wanted to win and it was fantastic that Sizing John won the race for him.”

Until Tuesday the National Hunt Award had been monopolised by Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, both of whom were among the nominees this year.

Only Davy Russell, in 2012, had interrupted the pair's domination in the history of the awards, with Mullins winning the prize seven times and Walsh on five occasions.

It was a second HRI award for Harrington, who took the Outstanding Achievement award in 2010.

Harrington's daughters Kate and Emma, who runs the office at the trainer's County Kildare yard, joined their mother on stage for the Horse of the Year presentation, along with Sizing John's rider, Robbie Power.

"Doing the jobs that their mother doesn't like doing" was the message from the daughters, with Emma choosing the word "perseverance" to sum up Harrington's character.

"Stubborn and thick" was how Power described the trainer with good humour. "She'll tell you if she thinks you've got things wrong but in fairness that'll be the end of it," Power said.

Zabana and Alpha Des Obeaux are among the other 13 potential opponents for Sizing John, although that number includes Douvan and Un De Sceaux, who are heading elsewhere this weekend for their seasonal debuts.

Mullins said: "Plans remain the same once all is well with the horses over the next few days. Douvan is going to the Tingle Creek, Un De Sceaux is most likely to head for the Hilly Way Chase at Cork on Sunday and Djakadam will run in the John Durkan."