Noel Meade will aim Road To Respect firmly 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 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 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 (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, but the Jessica Harrington-trained Sizing John was only seventh, with Willie Mullins’ 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.
“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.”
* Eight-times Grade One winner Nichols Canyon - the only horse to beat the mighty Faugheen - suffered a fatal injury when falling at the fifth flight in the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Willie Mullins’ charge parted company from Paul Townend at the obstacle in front of the stands on the first circuit and was quickly attended to, but was unable to be saved.
The seven-year-old, who carried the colours of Andrea and Graham Wylie, lifted the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March for what proved to be his final success at the top level.
But arguably his greatest triumph was when lowering the colours of his stablemate Faugheen in the 2015 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
Nichols Canyon won 12 of his 20 career starts and amassed £707,000 in prize money.
Officials at Leopardstown said Nichols Canyon had suffered a fractured humerus just above the elbow.
Paying tribute, regular rider Ruby Walsh told At The Races: “It’s terrible. He had some wonderful days in Cheltenham, great days here, Fairyhouse, Punchestown - he was a wonderful little horse, a real character.
“He tried his best every day and it’s desperately sad for the yard and the Wylies.
“He was a hardy little horse and he was brave, he took the odd chance, but don’t most of us.”
* SATURDAY RACING PREVIEW: Tropics can continue to cock a snook in the direction of Father Time when he rocks up at Lingfield.
What trainer Dean Ivory would do for a few more horses in his yard like this old boy, who happily ended a lengthy winless run at Wolverhampton two weeks ago.
The nine-year-old son of Speightstown had threatened to take top spot throughout the autumn, but he made no mistake at Dunstall Park with a length-and-a-half defeat of Rajar, who is no mug.
Tropics has gone up 4lb for the six-furlong Betway Sprint Handicap, but he has shown over the years he is capable of winning back-to-back races.
It should not be forgotten, either, that he is rated vastly lower compared to his glory days, when he reached a career-high mark of 116. Moreover, Jack Duern’s 3lb claim will again come in very useful.
Kilbricken Storm should solve the conundrum of the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury. Colin Tizzard’s six-year-old has made breathless progress and ought to be good enough to land what is hardly an epic renewal of the Grade One.
Kilbricken Storm had to work quite hard to win a Grade Two at Cheltenham two weeks ago, but, even in spite of a tendency to hang left, it was reassuring to see him finish off his race so strongly.
That was his first start for Tizzard over three miles, which certainly bodes well with the Albert Bartlett in mind at the Festival in March.
And though this represents a drop back in trip, it should hold no terrors as he showed a bit of boot when an admittedly fortunate winner over two miles at Wincanton last month.
Kilbricken Storm has clearly made immeasurable improvement since then and should be followed with interest at Newbury.
Sunshade must have a cracking chance of claiming Listed honours at Taunton.
Nicky Henderson’s likeable filly is unbeaten in three starts for the Seven Barrows team and looked especially sharp in a small novice hurdle at Market Rasen on December 7.
The totetrifecta Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle seems the logical next port of call for the royal runner, who should not be unduly knocked off her stride if the ground remained soft.
Isaacstown Lad can gain a nice spot of redemption when he returns to Haydock for a handicap hurdle over two miles and seven furlongs.
The 10-year-old looked destined to take a considerable hand in the finish over this course and distance a week ago, but fell at the seventh flight as the 6-4 favourite.
Assuming that slip-up has not left any psychological wounds, losses can be recouped on Merseyside.
HAYDOCK: 11.50 Du Soleil, 12.25 Jonniesofa, 1.00 First Flow, 1.35 Isaacstown Lad, 2.10 Courtown Oscar, 2.45 Federici, 3.20 Mercy Mercy Me.
LINGFIELD: 11.30 City Gent, 12.00 TROPICS (NAP), 12.35 D’Waterside, 1.10 Line Of Beauty, 1.45 Mr Mac, 2.20 Living Leader, 2.55 Elysian Fields, 3.30 Unit Of Assessment.
NEWBURY: 12.05 Nayati, 12.40 Indian Hawk, 1.15 Chirico Vallis, 1.50 Huntsman Son, 2.25 Potters Legend, 3.00 Kilbricken Storm, 3.35 Rocklander.
TAUNTON: 12.15 Grand Sancy, 12.50 Friday Night Light, 1.25 Cap Horner, 2.00 Capeland, 2.35 Burrenbridge Hotel, 3.15 Sunshade, 3.45 Sporty Yankee.
DOUBLE: Tropics and Kilbricken Storm.