LEXUS CHASE (GRADE 1)
THE decision to eschew a much easier option later in the week and go for gold paid spectacular dividends for Gordon Elliott and jockey Jack Kennedy as Outlander thrust himself to the forefront of the country’s staying division with a revelatory effort in the Lexus Chase.
A field of 13, headed by dual Gold Cup second Djakadam, represented the biggest turnout for this race since it was first run over three miles in 1992 and it served up an enthralling spectacle.
Elliott mightn’t have had quite as prolific a tally of Christmas winners as he would have hoped for but in saddling Outlander to defeat stablemate Don Poli this was a race to savour for the trainer.
This triumph represented a momentous one in the career of Kennedy as it was his first at the highest level and, most appropriately, this success made it 100 wins on the track for the 17-year-old. Furthermore, the Lexus enabled Gigginstown House Stud to end Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting on a high following a lean couple of days. Up to this race Gigginstown were without a winner at the festival but the operation’s backbone, its staying chasers, came to the fore with a five-strong challenge for the race yielding a one-two-four.
Afterwards Gordon Elliott reported that Tramore’s Listed At The Races Chase on New Year’s Day had been Outlander’s likely target. However, drying ground prompted just a third try at three miles for the son of Stowaway who proved his mettle at this level and is now set to go down the Gold Cup route.
Thistlecrack sets a daunting standard in the Gold Cup but Elliott must surely go into 2017 satisfied with his staying chasers. Outlander looks a coming force, Don Poli resurrected himself in some style and last season’s Gold Cup hero Don Cossack is getting ever closer to making a comeback.
In the race itself, the runners went a good, even tempo and all remained in the reckoning passing halfway after which point Kennedy allowed Outlander to start creeping forward from midfield.
With four to jump, Don Poli moved to the head of the field and he remained there at the entrance to the straight but poised in behind were plenty of challengers.
Valseur Lido was travelling especially well at this point, Djakadam was well placed on the inner and Outlander was in the process of making his bid for glory. There was very little between this quartet jumping the last but one by one they gave best on the run in.
FIRST TO CRACK
Valseur Lido was the first to crack and then Djakadam was struggling to make his way to the front while Outlander (11/1) scampered home under Kennedy to assert late on.
At the line the winner had two and a quarter lengths to spare over Don Poli, while their former Willie Mullins stablemate, Djakadam, was a further head back.
Valseur Lido had to settle for fourth with the English raider Taquin Du Seuil taking fifth.
“We’ve hit the crossbar quite a few times over the last few days but we got the Paddy Power yesterday and to have a one-two in a race like this is brilliant,” said an elated Elliott.
“It was touch and go whether we’d run here, we were thinking of Tramore instead but when the ground dried out we said we’d give this a go.
“I thought he came here off a career best run in Punchestown where he finished a very good second to Djakadam. He’s improved again today to win this race and we’ll have to look at going down the Gold Cup route now.
“I would imagine he will be back here in February for the Stan James Irish Gold Cup.
“Don Poli has run a great race. He wouldn’t have won a point-to-point the way he ran at Down Royal but we’ve done plenty of hunting with him since then and we left all the head gear off him today and he’s come back to form.
“I’ll talk to Michael and Eddie (O’Leary) about where we go with him but he might well go down the Grand National route.
“I must say I do feel sorry for Bryan Cooper as he didn’t have any easy choice to make and it would have been very hard to get off Valseur Lido.”
For Kennedy the biggest victory of his career, which only began in May 2015, had yet to sink in.
“It’s very hard to describe really. I’m just very grateful to Gordon and the O’Learys for giving me the chance to ride in a race like this,” he said. “The horse travelled and jumped well and, to be fair to him, he dug in deep for me when I needed him to.”
Willie Mullins indicated that he might well head straight to the Gold Cup with Djakadam.