Wednesday, February 22, 2012
By Stephen Dwyer
Cast your mind back four years ago to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Can you remember Sizing Europe being a very skinny 2/1 favourite for the 2008 renewal ? The season was going to plan, he had won the Greatwood Hurdle at the course a few short months beforehand. This was followed up with an 8 length defeat of Hardy Eustace in AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. Remember too that Sizing Europe had also been trained for the Supreme Novices hurdle a year before but did not line up. This time he was ready.
In the Champion Hurdle, Sizing Europe looked a class apart. It was not a strong renewal, Harchibald and Osana looked best on paper. Coming down Cleeve hill for the last time, Andrew McNamara had Sizing Europe well in contention. It just seemed that all the six year old had to do was climb that hill for an assured victory. It was not to be. After the second last hurdle, Sizing Europe stopped to nothing. He was virtually pulled and finished fourteenth out of the fifteen runners. The gelding had strained a joint in his pelvis and his season was over.
The injury was a minor one, disappointment all around for Sizing Europe’s connections’ as Katchit, under Robert Thorton became the first five year old winner of the Champion Hurdle since the triple-winning See You Then in 1985. Two things happened after that race. Sizing Europe would never again win a hurdle race, instead he went on to become one of the most progressive, gifted two mile chasers in years.
Eighteen days after finishing fourth in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, Sizing Europe began his first season back at Punchestown with his first victory as a novice chaser. He then won a Grade 3 chase, then a Grade 2, then the Grade 1 Irish Arkle, all in succession. He had arrived.
Following this progression, Alan Potts, his millionaire owner clearly wanted to make Sizing Europe a Gold Cup horse out of him but simply does not stay three miles. He is by Pistolet Bleu, a sire not renowned for staying chasers. He finished second to China Rock and Kauto Star over extended trips before being dropped back in distance. In last year’s Champion Chase, Sizing Europe was at his very best. He was ridden aggressively by Andrew Lynch and made virtually all the running. Such was his class that he had the field on the stretch at the top of the hill. Big Zeb, Master Minded and Somersby, all Group 1 horses could not keep into the long, electric stride of the eventual 10/1 winner.
Since last year’s win in the Champion Chase, Sizing Europe’s form reads 21211. He put in a commanding performance in this year’s Tingle Creek where he was a runaway winner and demolished Big Zeb in the Tied Cottage chase earlier this month at Punchestown. Unknowingly firming up the odds for the Champion Chase after the race his trainer Henry De Bromhead noted “That was a savage performance. He seems a much stronger horse this year”. No question about it, when Sizing Europe is ridden positively over two miles on decent ground, he is the best two mile chaser in the world.
Now a 10 year old, age is not against him, Skymas won the Champion Chase at a 12. He has the speed and ability over fences to turn the screw on his younger rivals. His win ratio is equally impressive. A winner of 14 of his 29 races, had you put €100 on him each time he ran you would be in profit to the tune of €3,247.
Only once has Sizing Europe disappointed his trainer. On his second ever start he finished fifth in a Limerick bumper. To this day, Henry De Bromhead blames himself for not instructing his jockey to use more aggressive tactics. In 2006 he was a big unexposed four-year-old and his trainer, not knowing what he had stated modestly ”You learn in your ignorance." In retrospect all involved have learned, maybe it’s a good thing this happened.
In the Champion Chase in a few weeks’ time, I expect Sizing Europe to make a strong gallop of it. With his class, his long, loping stride and his fluency over fences, he will be very hard to beat. You get the feeling that very soon there will be another double-winning Champion Chaser on the roll of honour. Better still that he’s doing what he does best.