Noel Meade will aim Road To Respect firmly at the Cheltenham Gold Cup after his victory in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase on Thursday, a race in which current staying king Sizing John "was never going" and finished distressed.
Road to Respect gets up with a great jump at the final fence to lead home a Gigginstown 1-2-3 in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase pic.twitter.com/G8Db72HToz— RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) December 28, 2017
The winner, ridden by Sean Flanagan, powered up the run-in to back up his other Grade 1 success in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in April, leading a one-two-three for owners Gigginstown House Stud.
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 and the Gordon Elliott-trained Outlander.
Gigginstown were also responsible for the fifth and sixth in Alpha Des Obeaux and Valseur Lido, but the Jessica Harrington-trained Sizing John was only seventh, with Willie Mullins' Yorkhill one place behind him.
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.
"I suppose if he did he would run back here, but we have to think where Disko is going to go as well. We'll talk to Eddie and Michael (O'Leary) and see what they are going to do."
"We were very hopeful as he was in terrific form. We knew he was in great shape and we were just hoping that he'd keep improving. He had to improve a lot to get up there, he had another 10lb to get up there. We thought he had, as he did a bit of work in Fairyhouse last week and did it very well."
Flanagan said: "There was no hiding place and it was a true-run race. To be fair, when I got a bit of room he came alive. He's got loads of speed. He's a very good horse. I wouldn't be worried about the Gold Cup distance as he settled well there and he has won at the track before."
The seven-year-old Sizing John was reported to be distressed following the race and found to be clinically abnormal after being examined by veterinary staff.
Rider Robbie Power said his mount "was never going", adding: "He just didn't spark today, the vets have found there's something wrong with him, so he'll get home safely tonight and Jessie's vets will look at him in the morning."
Trainer Jessica Harrington said: "The official report said he was a clinical abnormality after the post-race examination. He is sound now and his heart was okay. Basically he got slight hyperthermia and he got too hot. As soon as he cooled down, he was grand. I won't know anything else until I run some blood tests on him when I get back."
Mullins said of Yorkhill: "It's disappointing and I'm not sure he has a career as a three-mile chaser. It's back to the drawing board with him."
There was a sad footnote to proceedings, with Andrew Lynch's Grade 1 winner Zabana being fatally injured in a fall at the seventh fence.
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