Top three O’Leary as Road To Respect claims Christmas Chase
Meade Star the highlight of 4.334-1 Leopardstown four-timer for Ryanair boss
Sean Flanagan celebrates victory on board Road to Respect in the Leopardstown Christmas Steeplechase. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Road To Respect led home a 1-2-3 for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team in Thursday’s Leopardstown Christmas Chase as the Ryanair boss overwhelmed his opposition on Day Three of the Dublin track’s festival action.
O’Leary’s famous maroon colours were carried by four winners – including Apple’s Jade in the big hurdle – with the four-timer paying odds of 4,334-1.
It’s Grade One steeplechase results that really count with the businessman however and it was Road To Respect who proved the headline act in a resounding display of ownership strength in the €150,000 feature.
With the odds-on Gold Cup champion Sizing John finishing a sick horse in seventh, and the enigmatic Yorkhill a place behind him in eighth, the finish was dominated by O’Leary’s five runners.
Road To Respect at 8-1 had over a length in hand of the 66-1 outsider Balko Des Flos with last year’s winner Outlander in third. Only the English raider Minella Rocco in fourth interrupted the Gigginstown tide ahead of Valseur Lido (fifth) and Alpha Des Obeaux (sixth.)
It completed four-in-a-row for O’Leary in a race that used be titled ‘the Lexus’ and it leaves Road To Respect a 12-1 shot for the race that matters most of all for O’Leary – the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
“The Gold Cup is a different level again and I don’t know if Road To Respect is a Gold Cup horse. I would question this form. I don’t think Sizing John has run his race. But I’m delighted to win it. This is my only day racing this week – maybe I should come more often!” said O’Leary.
If the owner has doubts about Cheltenham then trainer Noel Meade doesn’t. He didn’t hesitate to describe Road To Respect as “a Gold Cup contender” after his suspicion that the horse is improving was vindicated in style.
Sean Flanagan brought Road To Respect through to win with authority at the line at the end of a furiously run race which nevertheless left a sense of unfinished business.
Sizing John was being niggled with six fences to jump and jockey Robbie Power said 2017’s Horse of the Year finished “distressed”. Afterwards he was found to be “clinically abnormal” in a veterinary inspection.
Yorkhill, trying three miles for the first time, quickly made his way to the front and there was no repeat of the antics he showed last Easter. However he was done with from the second last.
“It’s back to the drawing board. I’m disappointed. I’m not sure he has a career as a three mile chaser,” conceded Yorkhill’s trainer Willie Mullins.
Certainly Road To Respect looks a different proposition now to the one who took advantage of Yorkhill’s waywardness at Fairyhouse in Easter. Meade acknowledged the application of a hood helped his charge.
“He settled great and it was an absolute peach of a ride. He’s a Gold Cup contender now so he’ll go for the Gold Cup. Whether he runs in between or not, I don’t know,” said Meade who afterwards combined with Flanagan to win the Beginners Chase with Snow Falcon.
“We knew he was in great shape and we were hoping he’d keep improving. He had another 10lbs to get up there but we thought he had as he did a bit of work last week and did it very well,” Meade added.
It was the biggest win of Flanagan’s career and the jockey reported: “Halfway down the back I thought I was too far back. I was flat out. There was no hiding place and it was a true run race. But when I got a bit of room he came alive.
“I wouldn’t be worried about the Gold Cup distance. He settled well there and has won at the track [Cheltenham] before.”
Joseph O’Brien supplied a 288-1 double for Gigginstown. Hardback got the better of Low Sun in the handicap hurdle and Alighted came to the bookmaker’s rescue in the bumper, beating off Young Wolf and the odds-on favourite Voix Des Tiep.
Amateur rider Richie Deegan sprang a 33-1 surprise in the Pertemps Qualifier on board Mine Now. Deegan kicked for home on the turn in and had just enough in reserve to hold off A Great View’s late challenge.