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Sizing John shines as Ireland takes centre stage on weather hit Sunday

By Robert Fenton

Sizing John signalled he is set to put up a strong defence of his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown by making an impressive return to action in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase yesterday.

Trainer Jessica Harrington's decision to miss the Betfair Chase because of heavy ground at Haydock and the carrot of a £1million bonus was vindicated in some style, on a day when Ireland took centre stage with no racing in the UK due to the cold snap.

The only worrying moment jockey Robbie Power had was at the second fence, but it was plain sailing after that.

Ranging alongside dual John Durkan winner Djakadam at the third-last, Sizing John (2-1) strode clear from the last for a seven-length success.

Harrington expressed her relief, saying: "First run of the year, you are always nervous. I wasn't worried about the heavy ground going two and a half miles, but he was super. The mistake at the second fence woke us all up and he jumped super after that.

"I don't know where he will go next. It's always one race at a time and I'll have to talk to a few people before we decide where we go next.

"The one place he will turn up, all things being equal, is in March (Cheltenham), and what we do between now and March will depend on the horse. We might go to Leopardstown or the King George or we might miss Christmas altogether."

Last season's Ryanair Chase scorer Un De Sceaux (4-6 favourite) was the star turn at Cork, where he put his rivals to the sword in the Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase with an immaculate display in testing conditions, piloted by 2016 Grand National-winning jockey David Mullins.

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