Road To Respect can oblige in Punchestown Gold Cup
Next Destination better than bare form and primed to put Cheltenham run behind him
Road To Respect comes back in trip and takes his chance at three miles. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Day Two of Punchestown can be marked by Road To Respect successfully taking the route to centre stage.
Michael O’Leary’s runner is one of a four-strong Gigginstown Stud team for the €275,000 Coral Punchestown Gold Cup, a race the Ryanair chief executives has won three times already.
The first of them was War Of Attrition who sealed O’Leary’s fascination with the sport in 2006 by landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup and adding this race a month later.
In 2015 another superstar, Don Cossack, won at Punchestown before proceeding to land steeplechasing’s blue-riband renewal a year later.
This renewal lacks a certain star appeal
In terms of billing, Road To Respect can’t compare to them. And in terms of anticipation this year’s renewal can’t compare to other years – such as when Sizing John memorably pulled off his Gold Cup triple crown last season.
With neither Native River or Might Bite – first and second at Cheltenham – making the journey this renewal lacks a certain star appeal.
There would be a certain aptness then to Road To Respect emerging best as his fate has been to spend much of his career in the shadow of others.
When winning last season’s Ryanair Gold Cup most attention centred on Yorkhill’s spectacularly wayward jumping instead.
When reaching his career peak in this season’s Christmas Chase it was Sizing John’s lacklustre effort that distracted from the winner’s enclosure. Even in the number one spot, and despite the glow of victory, O’Leary offered the opinion that his winner might not be up to winning a Gold Cup.
Ultimately he was proved right, but Road To Respect travelled like a good horse for much of the race at Cheltenham until a mistake at the third last fence meant he struggled from that point on.
He plugged on gamely for fourth and doubts that 3¼ miles on very testing ground would stretch his stamina to breaking point eventually looked to be borne out.
Now after having almost six weeks to recover he’s back to three miles. And despite showery conditions the ground should not be as stamina sapping. Crucially he also has the race’s top rating of 166, plus form-book evidence that his Christmas victory was very good indeed.
The presence of the 66/1 shot Balko Des Flos in second was a stick used to beat the performance. But that one’s Cheltenham Festival success puts a much more positive complexion on it.
In terms of nearly horses even Road To Respect has to give way to Djakadam, one of four Willie Mullins hopes. Djakadam finished runner-up in this race for the last three years including that epic 2017 climax with Sizing John.
Ahead of him in the Mullins pecking order
That was yet another agonising near miss for a horse famously twice a runner-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He would be a popular winner but his stable companions Bellshill and Killultagh Vic appear to be ahead of him in the Mullins pecking order.
That order is of central importance to the Racing Post Champion Bumper in which Cheltenham heroine Relegate will attempt to emulate Cousin Vinny (2008) and Champagne Fever (2012) by completing the festival double for Mullins.
Gordon Elliott’s three hopefuls include Getaway John, just edged out by Tornado Flyer during the winter but has won twice since. Missing Cheltenham might work to his advantage here.
Next Destination was widely expected to put it up to Samcro at Cheltenham but failed to land a blow. Ultimately, he plugged on for third in that Ballymore but the suspicion remains he’s better than that bare form. Maybe three miles in the Mirror Novice Hurdle will prove the trick.
Getaway John’s rider, Finny Maguire, could also be a contender in the concluding mares bumper aboard Cordovan Brown.
Liz Doyle’s runner had to be pulled up behind Relegate in February, but she is a course winner and her second to Crackerdancer during the winter was a fine effort.