Pandorama shines in Lexus triumph
Pandorama made it three Grade One triumphs over fences for the Noel Meade stable in front of 10,278 spectators at Leopardstown yesterday when bouncing back to form in the Lexus Chase after an unhappy experience at Newbury in last month's Hennessy Gold Cup.
Memories of that mistake-ridden initial venture on English soil -- and indeed his previous withdrawal with a nosebleed at Down Royal -- were handsomely erased when the Flemensfirth gelding, which cost a mere €5,000 as a foal, recaptured the sparkle that had seen Kinnegad hotelier Robert Bagnall's seven-year-old defeat subsequent Cheltenham hero Weapon's Amnesty in the Fort Leney Chase over this route a year ago.
Probably the best-backed horse in the Lexus promotion, having been punted on-course from 6/1 to 7/2 joint favourite with the disappointing Cooldine, Pandorama jumped slickly in the main for Paul Carberry in the wake of trailblazing 2006 victor The Listener, with the exception of an untidy leap at the final ditch.
"From the moment they jumped off I was happy that our fellow was none the worse for what happened at Newbury. Apart from getting too close to three out, he was travelling well for Paul, who got him in a lovely rhythm," said Meade, who revealed that the horse had worked exceptionally well when taken to Dundalk's all-weather track last week for his final prep outing.
"It's easy enough to make plans for these good horses -- he'll come back here for the Hennessy Gold Cup in February and, all going well, we could dare to dream of Cheltenham, though he wouldn't be risked in the Gold Cup on good ground.
"He has only been beaten once here before, over hurdles at Navan by Mikael D'Haguenet, and at Newbury everything went wrong -- for some reason he stood too far off the first ditch and landed on the middle of it and two fences later he was badly hampered by two fallers so the race was over for him."
Still in front under sufference into the straight as Carberry oozed confidence aboard Pandorama, The Listener's exertions in the testing going told as he faded to finish fifth as Money Trix and Joncol went by on the run-in to fill the same positions as 12 months previously behind What A Friend.
A rematch between the first three over the same route in the Hennessy is on the cards, with dour stayer Money Trix's English handler Nicky Richards bemoaning that these races aren't run over an extra four furlongs, while Paul Nolan regretted that Joncol had an interrupted preparation.
This is one major event that has so far eluded champion trainer Willie Mullins and he had no luck with his three runners yesterday. Cooldine gradually seemed to lose interest after a mistake six out and was pulled up; J'Vole didn't stay the three miles as she faded out to come sixth and second-season novice Kempes gave Tony McCoy a heavy fall at the second last when still in with a chance of reaching the frame.
Delayed by a flight mix-up that saw him diverted to Heathrow, Britain's perennial champion jockey was nursing a sore left wrist with ice packs applied before undertaking a return journey for a possible X-ray ahead of his Newbury engagements this afternoon, so he will have to pass the doctor there if he's to compete.
In stark contrast to Pandorama, Meade feared the worst for Ballymaloe Fort Leney Novice Chase favourite Thegreatjohnbrowne from the outset even though Carberry's mount was taking them along if tending to go right at the obstacles and remained in front until joined turning for home by Bostons Angel.
Relishing the step up in trip to three miles, the latter 14/1 chance, which Robert Power galvanised to great effect on the climb from the final fence, had enough in hand to contain the late surge of Quito De La Roque as Western Charmer rallied to relegate the favourite to fourth.
"He's a laid-back horse, which we've always thought was a staying chaser in the making. The RSA Chase at Cheltenham would hardly play to his strengths and he could be one for the Irish Grand National," said jockey Robbie Power.
In between, the bookmakers were paying out again as Mourad landed the Woodies-sponsored Christmas Hurdle to complete a double for Mullins and Paul Townend after their latest French recruit So Young had skated up when market leader as well in the Madigans Maiden Hurdle.
Last year's winner Powerstation had all except Mourad under pressure heading for home and it was only after the final flight that Mourad asserted his superiority to sustain hopes of challenging Big Buck's for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle supremacy next March.
"Cheltenham is the target with another run or two in between and I would expect Mourad to be even better on decent ground," Mullins said.