Road To Respect out to cap extraordinary renaissance
David Jennings sets the scene for Punchestown Gold Cup day
The tension is tangible and of course we are all eager to know how this outstanding operatic epic ends, but first, let's pause for an interlude.
Elliott and Mullins have sung every song so far and nobody else has got a note in sideways. The Coral Punchestown Gold Cup could be the one and only chance to draw breath before the two tenors return to the stage for what promises to be a riveting final act.
The most likely source of interval entertainment is an unlikely one: a horse who was beaten 40 lengths into tenth off a mark of 128 when 25-1 for a 3m handicap hurdle at this very meeting two years ago.
You would have laughed hysterically had you been told a few years ago that Donald Trump would be US President, Leicester would win the Premier League and that the tiny Tiger Roll would claim a Grand National. And as for that soundly-beaten horse from two years ago coming back and winning a Punchestown Gold Cup? Go grab your coat.
The renaissance of Road To Respect has been amazing. The aforementioned effort here in 2016 proved to be his final outing for Eoin Griffin. He switched trainer, switched to fences and switched from a harmless hurdler into a cracking chaser. It is a fascinating tale to which a compelling chapter could be added on Wednesday.
The first, second and third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup are nowhere to be seen so it is only natural to believe that the fourth home will plunder the big prize at Punchestown.
Road To Respect has already won a Grade 1 this season, beating Balko Des Flos in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown, and you couldn't help but think that he would have made a bigger splash against Native River if the ground had been good at Cheltenham. It ought to be quicker here and he avoided Aintree so has had 40 days to recuperate from his festival effort.
Noel Meade has never won the Punchestown Gold Cup before. When better to change that than smack bang in the middle of a title tussle between his two illustrious colleagues. The timing is perfect.
Chance for Djakadam to step up and say 'I do'
A dazzling Djakadam display would be timely too. He has been best man so many times that he could write a speech in his sleep. It is about time he said the words 'I do' instead and got himself hitched.
Nobody remembers runner-ups and Djakadam will be forgotten fairly soon if he does not end his drought having been without a victory since the John Durkan in 2016.
Neither Killultagh Vic nor Total Recall completed in the Gold Cup so perhaps Bellshill is the big hope from Closutton. He would have been put off the road for years had there been a checkpoint at the final fence in the Irish Grand National so punch-drunk was he. He staggered home into fifth, but is 23 days enough time to recover?
Then there is Outlander. Rather you than me trying to figure out what he will do. He arrives with form figures of PP but warmed up for Grade 1 success at Down Royal earlier in the season on the back of a 42-length battering by Road To Respect here in October. He's as unpredictable as they come.
Few could have foreseen Edwulf winning an Irish Gold Cup so forget him at your peril. We all did that at Leopardstown and look what happened.
Back to the big two for the supporting card
Normal service looks sure to resume for the other two Grade 1s on the card as Mullins and Elliott are responsible for four of the top five in the betting for the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle and seven of the ten runners in the Racing Post Champion Bumper – those seven occupy the top seven places in the market too.
Next Destination stormed up the Cheltenham hill in pursuit of Samcro, pleading with his trainer to try him over three miles. He gets his wish at 4.55, but bumps into Albert Bartlett winner Kilbricken Storm, who looked a reformed character at Cheltenham.
No horse has reformed more than Road To Respect, though. Little did we know when he arrived home in tenth in that handicap hurdle that he would be favourite for a Punchestown Gold Cup with a rating of 166 over fences, 3lb better than anything else in the race, two years on.
Victory today would put the finishing touches to a remarkable story.
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