The Flat season has yet to reach its final crescendo, not least with two Group One prizes to settle at Newmarket tomorrow, but the jumpers are now well into their overture. Cheltenham stages its first meeting of the season today, for instance, but perhaps the fresh start made in Ireland yesterday will prove still more significant.
As a hurdler, Sizing Europe ultimately promised more than he delivered, not least when dropping out so abruptly as favourite in the Champion Hurdle last year. But the way he has begun his career over fences suggests that his trainer, Henry de Bromhead, may yet find consolation for all those serial frustrations.
Sizing Europe proved little in his first steeplechase, outclassing a field of inferiors at Punchestown back in May, but in returning to the same track yesterday he confirmed himself an unusually adept novice. Jumping impeccably in the Buck House Novice Chase, he coasted home by 17 lengths from no less a rival than Harchibald, who was making his own chasing debut at the venerable age of 10.
Harchibald's many persecutors will doubtless suggest that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, and he was conspicuously weak in the betting. But he ran very respectably, simply unable to land a blow as the odds-on Sizing Europe, left in front at halfway, jumped and travelled with terrific gusto under Andrew Lynch. The jockey was so impressed he found himself muttering "Gold Cup horse next year" as he came back in.
De Bromhead's more immediate Cheltenham agenda is the novice chase, sponsored by The Independent, on 15 November, a race that has announced Best Mate and Azertyuiop among others. "It's great to have him back," De Bromhead said. "I was a bit worried when the leader fell, as he was out in front a long time, but it didn't seem to bother him. He just loves jumping, and was pricking his ears for the next one. Hopefully, we got all his troubles out of the way last season."
Coral cut Sizing Europe to 12-1 from 20-1 for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at the Festival. The increasing earnest of the jumpers had already been evident in a decisive success for Some Present in the maiden hurdle. Winner of the bumper on the equivalent card last year, he had been beaten only by the freakish Dunguib in his one subsequent start, the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. Without being quite as fluent in his new discipline as Sizing Europe was in his, class soon told once Davy Russell had sent him into the lead after the last.
"When he did make a mistake, he went to the next hurdle and jumped it properly," Russell remarked. "He's going to learn a lot." Tom Mullins, his trainer, added that it was only the congenial going that had prompted him to start Some Present so soon. "He only had two runs last year, and if he's going to compete it's a help to get experience," he said. "We'll do as much we can up to Christmas, while we get nice ground. I'm very pleased with the performance, but he'll have to improve. He's a very clever horse and adapted well as it went on."
Snap Tie, seventh in the Champion Hurdle on his last visit to Cheltenham, returns there today for his debut over fences. One of the top juvenile hurdlers of last season, meanwhile, surfaces over on the Rowley Mile, Hebridean making his debut for Luca Cumani in a Group Three race. But perhaps the most fascinating runner, not least to those who have been spending fortunes down the road at Tattersalls this week, will be Kalypso King in the Sariska Houghton Stakes. Though he is by Giant's Causeway out of an Oaks runner-up, he cost just $45,000 (£27,700) as a yearling and won a Newbury maiden last month by seven lengths.
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