Road strikes Clonmel Oil riches in style for Cooper
Road To Riches quashed any worries that his gruelling end to last season might have left a mark with a stylish front-running victory on his return in the Clonmel Oil Chase.
Having finished a gallant third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on soft ground, Noel Meade's dual Grade One-winning eight-year-old was then crushed to the tune of 13-odd lengths by Don Cossack at Punchestown.
Such exertions would often take a toll. However, under another positive Bryan Cooper steer, Road To Riches recorded a flawless six-length triumph in ground that had deteriorated throughout the morning to ride heavy.
He winged the last fence to finally quell any prospect of the opposition landing a blow, with Bright New Dawn keeping on in behind to deny Felix Yonger for second.
"I'm absolutely relieved," admitted Meade after securing his third win in the €47,500 two-and-a-half-miler. "I don't usually worry about what will happen the next day, but I couldn't sleep last night. I was worrying would he fancy the track or the ground and going two-and-a-half miles here.
"You'd have to be happy, though, and he jumped great - he was ready to go today."
Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud operation also has serious staying chasers like Don Cossack and Don Poli to go to war with in the months ahead. Recognising as much, Meade couldn't commit to Road To Riches' next target.
"I don't really know where we go next," he stressed. "Michael mentioned the (John Durkan Memorial Chase) for him, but I would rather run him over three miles and maybe go back to the Lexus. But with Gigginstown everything is done on a discussion basis and the chairman usually rules! They have so many horses to consider, but we want to be back at Cheltenham in March. What he does in the meantime, we'll have to wait and see.
"The Lexus seems the obvious race if Don Cossack goes for the King George, but, if they decide to go the other way with him, I wouldn't mind going to Kempton with this fellow, either."
Strongly supported yesterday into an SP of 8/13, Road To Riches was slashed to 3/1 from 6/1 by bookmaker Paddy Power to retain his Lexus crown. He was also trimmed from a high of 20/1 to as low 12/1 for the Gold Cup, though he did little here to justify that, other than to confirm he is none the worse for last season's exploits.
"He did it well," Cooper confirmed. "It was tough work out there. Conditions were hard as there is a good strong headwind. Having to make the running on your first run isn't ideal. I was impressed with his jumping. When I needed him, he was very good."
Cooper initiated a brace in the preceding handicap hurdle aboard Gordon Elliott's 4/1 joint market leader Prince Of Scars, though Ruby Walsh dominated the remainder of the card.
He instigated an Elliott double in the opening maiden hurdle when standing in for Davy Russell on Jetstream Jack (9/10 fav). Russell had been pencilled in to return from injury, only for his return to be scuppered at the 11th hour.
"It's paperwork, which is unfortunate," Russell proposed of the delay. "Hopefully it will be sorted out before or after the weekend."
Walsh, who thanked the stewards for giving him every chance to take the ride after receiving a late call whilst riding out for Willie Mullins, hardly broke sweat in completing a treble. On a day that saw six of the seven races go to the market leaders, Jetstream Jack dotted up, as did the long odds-on Mullins duo, Vroum Vroum Mag and Noble Inn.
Vroum Vroum Mag stretched her unbeaten run over fences to six by treating her three Grade Three rivals with contempt at odds of 1/4.
Rich Ricci had previously indicated that a Hennessy Gold Cup tilt would be on the agenda for his classy mare.
While Walsh agreed that she may soon have to take on the boys, Mullins didn't seem keen on the prospect of her running at Newbury on Saturday week. "That's not my first line of thought and we'll go slowly with her," he said. "She did it nicely and will be aimed at a mares' campaign; there's a race for her at Carlisle and there's another one for her in England in February."
Walsh completed his treble, which would have yielded a mere three-point profit to a single unit stake, in similarly sublime fashion on Noble Inn in the concluding conditions hurdle.
Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power took the first handicap hurdle with Oscar Sam (5/2 fav), while the only result for the layers was that of Indian Fairy in the handicap chase, Eoin Doyle's 8/1 shot readily seeing off Holeinthewall Bar. He was steered to victory by Donagh Meyler, whose assured displays continue to impress.