'Road' hands Meade a golden ticket
Noel Meade will aim Road To Respect at the Cheltenham Gold Cup after his victory in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase - where current staying king Sizing John was never going and finished distressed.
The Michael O'Leary-owned winner, ridden by Sean Flanagan, powered up the run-in to back up his other Grade One success in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in April, leading a one-two-three in the colours of O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud and a double for Meade.
The 16/1 shot - who was also victorious in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in March - was chased home by Henry de Bromhead's Balko Des Flos (66/1) and the Gordon Elliott-trained Outlander (8/1).
Gigginstown were also responsible for the fifth and sixth, in Alpha Des Obeaux and Valseur Lido, and the Jessica Harrington-trained Sizing John was only seventh, with Willie Mullins's Yorkhill one place behind him.
Paddy Power slashed Road To Respect to 8/1 from 20/1 for the Gold Cup, with King George winner Might Bite the 4/1 favourite from 11/2 and Sizing John out to 8/1 from 4/1. RaceBets and Betfair cut Road To Respect to 10/1 for the blue-riband prize.
Meade said: "Everything went according to plan. The hood obviously worked well. Sean rode him the other day and he said maybe a hood might help him to settle early on. He settled great and he gave him a most beautiful ride. I suppose when it works out it's always a great ride, but it was actually 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."
There was a sad footnote to proceedings, with Andrew Lynch's Grade One winner Zabana being fatally injured in a fall at the seventh fence.
Snow Falcon then capped a red-letter day for Meade and jockey Flanagan when running out an easy winner of the Midland Legal Solicitors Beginners Chase. The seven-year-old trounced the only other finisher Wishmoor to follow up the victory of Road To Respect after a field of five set out.
Wishmoor, yet another wearing the colours of Gigginstown, made the running to three out where a smooth-travelling Snow Falcon laid down his bid.
Earlier, Peter Fahey's Mine Now held the late thrust of A Great View to claim top honours in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Qualifier). Richard Deegan's decision to kick for home on the turn reaped reward, although the 33/1 outsider didn't triumph as easily as appeared likely at that stage.
Still well clear entering the final furlong, Mine Now began to tread water and A Great View emerged from the pack, but he clung on by a short head.
Alighted (16/1) made a likeable debut to give the in-form Joseph O'Brien a double (and an across-the-card four-timer thanks to winners at Limerick and Lingfield) in the bumper.
The four-year-old overcame his inexperience as he battled on stoutly for Barry O'Neill to beat long-time leader Young Wolf by a length and a half.
This was the second leg of a treble for Gigginstown as Hardback - also trained by O'Brien - put up a gutsy display to stave off Low Sun in a thrilling finish to the novice handicap hurdle.
There was nothing between the pair on the dash to the line from the final flight, but 3lb claimer Shane Shortall forced the six-year-old past the post as a narrow winner.
The 16/1 shot was completing a quick double for owners Gigginstown House Stud following the success of Apple's Jade in the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle.
Gordon Elliott's Flawless Escape broke his jumping duck in the opening maiden hurdle over two miles, four furlongs.
The lack of a proper pace resulted in a messy race and there were still plenty in contention after the final flight but Flawless Escape (11/4) showed a willing attitude for Roger Loughran and accounted for Jetez by a length.
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