Home defence routed in Lexus
A year on from his heroics in the Welsh National, Synchronised galloped to a resounding victory in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown yesterday, in the process laying waste to the aspirations of the cream of the Irish staying chasing division.
Having raced prominently, Rubi Light allayed any fears about his stamina to battle on for second, but Robbie Hennessy's six-year-old was all of eight and a half lengths behind the AP McCoy-ridden winner.
Quito De La Roque, sent off the 13/8 favourite to stretch his unbeaten run to six for Colm Murphy, was another couple of lengths back in third, as the gap between our best and the best seemed to grow ever larger following what was Jonjo O'Neill's second triumph in the Grade One.
Pulled up in the Irish Grand National in April, Synchronised finished strongly to take third in a handicap hurdle at Haydock last month.
Spurning the chance of back-to-back glory at Chepstow on Tuesday, O'Neill clearly sensed this was an opportunity ripe for exploiting with his diminutive, mud-loving eight-year-old, yet the drying ground at the Dublin venue left some questioning the wisdom of that decision.
In the end, Synchronised (8/1) made light of the conditions and the opposition, as JP McManus' iconic colours soared to a debut success in the three-mile showpiece.
"In fairness, he handled the ground well," McManus' racing manager Frank Berry beamed afterwards.
"It was a big decision to come here, but when his weight went up to 11st 11lb at Chepstow, he was going to have a hard race there to begin with.
"We won't get carried away and it will be up to Jonjo, but he could go straight for the Cheltenham Gold Cup now. He'll also get an entry in the English Grand National."
The ever-pragmatic McCoy, all too familiar with the standard of opposition in store at Cheltenham, said: "I don't think Kauto Star and Long Run will be too worried, but this is a great race for our fellow to win. He's not slow, but it takes him time to warm up. He got into a good position and travelled well, so things went to plan for him."
A fifth Lexus win for the raiders in six years, Synchronised was given a first show of 10/1 by Paddy Power to cause an even bigger upset at Prestbury Park in March.
Earlier, Last Instalment salvaged something for our future Gold Cup ambitions with a fine six-length coup in the Topaz Fort Leney Novice Chase. The Gigginstown Stud-owned six-year-old was stretching his 100pc record over fences to three, but had been passed over by Davy Russell in favour of First Lieutenant.
It was the second time in the space of a month that Russell's loyalty to Mouse Morris' steed cost him a Grade One, after Ruby Walsh steered Bog Warrior to score at Fairyhouse three weeks ago. This time, Brian O'Connell was the beneficiary.
Riding for boss and fellow Limerick native Philip Fenton, O'Connell sat close to the pace the whole way, and never looked in danger of being beaten once he went on two-out. First Lieutenant kept going for a never dangerous second, but couldn't cope with the clean-jumping Last Instalment, which returned at odds of 11/4.
"I was surprised that Davy opted for the other one," Fenton admitted afterwards. "It was a tough decision and he didn't make his mind up until late yesterday.
"We had great confidence in this fellow, so we weren't surprised. He could have one more run before the RSA Chase at Cheltenham -- if that's where we go with him -- back here in the Dr PJ Moriarty (February 12). The Powers Gold Cup is also an option for him."
Voler La Vedette made it three from three for the season to collect for a first time over three miles in the woodiesdiy.com Christmas Hurdle.
Colm Murphy's versatile mare (13/8) cruised through from the rear of the field under Andrew Lynch to deny the odds-on Mourad in the Grade Two, but her Wexford-based handler suggested that it was unlikely she would fulfil an engagement in today's feature.
The Gigginstown-owned Make Your Mark returned an impressive winner of the opening maiden hurdle for Willie Mullins and Russell, and was subsequently cut to 10/1 from 12/1 for the Neptune Investment Novices' Hurdle by Boylesports.
Mullins went on to finish the day in similar style, as Quiscover Fontaine justified 9/4 favouritism with a gritty display under McCoy in the conditions hurdle, prior to The Bosses Cousin (11/10) completing a short-priced treble for him in the bumper.
Yesterday's attendance was 15,222 -- up more than 5,000 on last year.