Donn's Articles » Sizing Europe

Sizing Europe

Henry de Bromhead was not at home for Christmas dinner yesterday. His wife Heather understands, thank God, and his two-year-old twins Jack and Mia will hopefully understand when they get a little older, that it’s not every year you have a horse with a chance in the King George.

The trainer left Knockeen in County Waterford on Friday morning in the horse box. The fact that the King George is set to be run tomorrow instead of today gave him an extra day at home, but Sizing Europe was travelling, so he was going with him. It isn’t that Christmas Day at home isn’t important, on the contrary it is desperately so, Christmas has always been a significant time for de Bromhead and, with two young kids now, the importance is heightened. But needs must. He has never not travelled with Europe. Maiden hurdle at Newbury in November 2006, Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham a year later, the deflation that was the 2008 Champion Hurdle and the renaissance that was the Arkle last March, de Bromhead has always been there, in the horse box, breathing every breath with his horse.

He could have stayed at home for Christmas, had Christmas dinner with his family instead of with his uncle, 40 minutes from Kempton, and flown over tomorrow morning. He could have trusted that Europe would have been okay with his lad and his physio, and he probably would have been, but the trainer just wouldn’t have been comfortable with that. He knows Sizing Europe now as well as he has ever known any horse, they have been through the mill together and out the other side, he knows his idiosyncrasies, what makes him tick.

It’s de Bromhead all over, leave nothing to chance. When your mission is to beat Kauto Star and history, you can’t afford to leave anything to chance.

Sizing Europe has four lengths to make up on the quadruple King George winner on their running at Down Royal, but there are reasons for believing that this is not Mission: Impossible.

“We were delighted with him at Down Royal,” says de Bromhead. “He slipped going into the first fence, and scared himself a little, with the result that he was very cautious over the next few fences, he took a little while to warm to it. He gave away ground by going wide the whole way, so it may have been a very good run. Also, he will come on for that a fair bit.”

He talks about knowing the horse, about building him up gradually this season, more so than last term, when he had already won twice before Christmas. He talks about the horse being at his best when he is fresh. The day that he put up what was probably the best performance of his career over hurdles, Irish Champion Hurdle day at Leopardstown in January 2008 when he beat Hardy Eustace and Al Eile by eight lengths, he was having his first run since the Greatwood Hurdle the previous November. Two runs this season to date, none for seven weeks, and he is fresh all right. Bursting for another.

He talks about Europe’s win in the Grade 1 two-mile novices’ chase at Leopardstown last Christmas. Even though he won, he didn’t jump with his usual alacrity, and the feeling was that Captain Cee Bee would have beaten him had he not crumpled on landing over the last. Immediately, de Bromhead got the physiotherapist back in, sorted out a couple of niggly things that had just been catching him. Won the Arkle. Now, the physio visits him at least once a week. Know your horse, leave nothing to chance.

“He seems to be taking a little while to adapt to going at three-mile pace,” says the trainer thoughtfully. “Last year, he was flat to the mat the whole way in his races, he was able to attack his fences and he jumped super. This year it’s a little different, he’s meeting his fences at a different pace. Also, it’s just his second season jumping fences and he is suddenly in the big league. Last year we could afford to be cautious, Andrew (Lynch) could afford to keep him wide, you’re on the best horse, just keep him out of trouble. This year, we probably need to be a little more daring.”

The decision to step Sizing Europe up in trip this season drew plenty of comment. Arkle winner one year, Champion Chase contender the next, that’s the accepted and logical path. Indeed, he is still priced up at as short as 7/1 by some bookmakers for the Champion Chase. That said, it is not an unusual step. Recent Gold Cup winners Best Mate, Kicking King, War Of Attrition, even Kauto Star himself, were all two-mile chasers the season before they won the Blue Riband.

“Europe was always a horse with a high cruising speed who perhaps didn’t have a sprint finish,” says de Bromhead. “The times on which he was caught out were the times that they went slow early on and then did him for a turn of foot. He won his beginners’ chase over two and a half miles, and he always looked like a horse who could get a trip. Also, both for me and for his owners Alan and Ann Potts, if you could have a King George or a Gold Cup horse, that would just be the pinnacle.”

Sizing Europe may be that horse. Mission: You’d Just Never Know.

© The Sunday Times, 26th December 2010