It often pays to study the trends associated with many big horse races, but occasionally a horse defies those trends. That was certainly the case with Sizing Tennessee, who became the first horse aged older than nine to win the Ladbrokes Trophy (formerly the Hennessey) since 1981. So, we thought we’d take a look at why it’s taken so long for Colin Tizzard’s chaser to reach his peak, and whether more big-race success may be on the horizon.
Born: May 2008
Trainer: Colin Tizzard
Jockeys: Katie Walsh, Mr P W Mullins, A Lynch, JJ Burke, D Russell, A Coleman, T O’Brien, B Cooper, Mr B O’Neill, R Power, T Scudamore
Owners: Ann & Alan Potts Limited
Breeder: Philip Hore
Sire: Robin Des Champs
Sizing Tennessee didn’t make his racecourse debut until April 2012, when he ran in a bumper at Fairyhouse. At this time, he was trained by Willie Mullins. He started at odds of 14/1 and finished fourth under Katie Walsh.
Connections decided to keep this big horse in bumpers the following season and he kicked off with two easy victories when odds-on at Gowran Park and Punchestown.
He was then just 10/1 for the Cheltenham Festival bumper, but finished down the field behind stablemate Briar Hill. It was a similar scenario at the Punchestown Festival, where he again finished down the field, despite being sent-off at 8/1.
A novice hurdle campaign beckoned but, after an easy win in a novice hurdle at Navan, he was injured and would spend over two-years off the course.
When Sizing Tennessee returned to the racecourse in December 2015, he had been transferred to trainer Henry de Bromhead. His new trainer tried to exploit a handicap mark of 138 but Sizing Tennessee ran like he was in need of the run after his lengthy absence.
De Bromhead then found him a very winnable race at Navan and he duly took his chance with a confident front-running performance over two-miles.
He then fell in his warm-up race for the Cheltenham Festival where he was a 66/1 shot for the County Hurdle. For the second time at the Cheltenham Festival, he again finished well down the field.
Along with many of his owner’s horses, he was transferred to trainer Colin Tizzard during the summer. Tizzard wasted no time mapping out a novice chase campaign for this big horse and he showed up well on his stable debut when finishing second in a novice chase at Cheltenham at odds of 33/1.
Connections kept him to 2½ miles for his next start, but he looked in need of a longer trip as he ran on late behind the high-class Whisper. He then looked unsuited by the quick nature of Kempton on his next start, again suggesting he wanted a longer trip.
A third trip to the Cheltenham Festival followed, but it again ended in failure as he pulled up in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Sizing Tennessee’s failure to win the previous season meant he was still classed as a novice chaser, and connections decided to try and lower his sights with a run at Newton Abbot. However, he bumped into the useful Black Corton there.
He also bumped into Black Corton on his next start at Cheltenham, when connections stepped him up in trip to 3 miles for the first time. However, he looked to be going best when in the lead three fences out but fell. Jumping issues again cost him dear at Ascot next time when he unseated.
A further step up in trip to 3 miles 1½ furlongs on his next start at Cheltenham relieved the pressure on his suspect jumping and he broke his chase duck at the eighth time of asking.
Surprisingly, connections dropped him back in trip for his next start, but he certainly wasn’t disgraced as he split the classy pair of Yanworth and Willoughby Court. He then ran third behind Mr Whittaker in a handicap back at Cheltenham over 2 miles and 5 furlongs.
After much deliberation, Connections decided Sizing Tennessee’s Cheltenham Festival target would be the National Hunt Chase over four-miles. He ran well in third, despite his stamina seeming to run out in the closing stages.
He then looked to have a great chance in the Scottish Grand National but was pulled up after a series of blunders blew his chance.
Tom Scudamore was booked to ride for the first time when Sizing Tennessee made his seasonal debut at Fontwell over 2 miles 5 furlongs off top-weight. However, despite the shorter than ideal trip, he won by an easy looking 11-lengths, suggesting he may have improved over the summer.
That impression was confirmed on his next start in the Ladbrokes Trophy where, having been well-backed from 20/1 into 12/1, he travelled and jumped well in the hands of Tom Scudamore to win by 10-lengths.
What the Future May Hold
The 2018 Ladbrokes Trophy may not have been the best ever renewal of what is normally a very competitive handicap but, as Sizing Tennessee will be 11 on 1 January 2019, connections look sure to target him at some of the top races whilst he’s in good form.
The King George may be on the agenda, but he’d probably need the ground to be heavy to make it enough of a test of stamina for him to get competitive. The Cheltenham Gold Cup could be of more interest, as the trip could be ideal for him. However, if he fails to find the necessary improvement for the step up to Grade 1 company, connections may also have the Grand National in the back of their minds.