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Sunday, 09 December, 2018

Road To Respect blows Gold Cup wide open as Sizing John and Yorkhill flop

Road To Respect (right) wins the Christmas Chase from Outlander (blue cap) and Balko Des Flos
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Road To Respect led home a Gigginstown House Stud 1-2-3 in the Christmas Chase on Thursday, but behind the maroon-and-white blanket there was nothing but questions.

The outcome of Leopardstown's Christmas highlight paid little respect to the form book as the flops of Sizing John and Yorkhill shook up the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup market.

Road to Respect was cut into a general 10-1, halving in price for the big one in March. But perhaps the more significant mover was King George winner Might Bite, who on Thursday evening was the new favourite at a best-priced 4-1, with last season's winner Sizing John available at double those odds after trailing home in seventh.

Just four lengths covered the first three home as Gigginstown's recent domination of the Grade 1 Christmas Chase continued.

Celebratory wave: Sean Flanagan enjoys Grade 1 success aboard the Noel Meade-trained Road To Respect

Road To Respect, who was returned at 8-1, repelled 66-1 shot Balko Des Flos and last year's winner Outlander, a 16-1 chance, to give Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary's operation its fourth straight success in the €150,000 contest.

It was a fourth win in the race for Meade and a second Grade 1 success for rider Sean Flanagan, who won the Flogas Novice Chase on Disko for the same connections last season.

Meade said: "That was great. Everything went to plan. Road To Respect settled better today than last time and that was a big help. He had to improve to win today and he's done that. He's a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender now.

"I don't know whether he'll run again before Cheltenham. If he does it will be in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup [February 4]."

Flanagan, earning by far the biggest victory of his career, said: "Road To Respect has been a very good horse to me. He's done everything perfect today and he's done it well. I'm delighted. 

"There was no hiding place. I thought halfway down the back I was probably a bit far back, but I was flat out and couldn't have been much closer. It was a good, true-run race and jumping the second-last he came alive – he's got loads of speed and is a very good horse."

JLT Novices' Chase winner Yorkhill, making his first start of the season, was prominent early as Sizing John, sent off the 9-10 favourite, sat in mid-division. 

But it all soon changed as a mistake five out jolted Yorkhill's progress while Sizing John began to look in trouble.

It was left to the Gigginstown gang to seize the initiative and they jumped the last together before Road To Respect asserted between his maroon-clad pals to win by a length and a quarter. Gold Cup runner-up Minella Rocco showed his best form since last season's Gold Cup in finishing fourth.

Yorkhill, who was racing over the trip for the first time, weakened quickly after two out to finish last of the eight finishers. Stablemate Djakadam was pulled up.

Trainer Willie Mullins said: "That was disappointing. On that evidence you'd have to think Yorkhill might not have a future as a three-mile chaser. We'll see but it will be back to the drawing board now."

Henry de Bromhead was delighted with the performance of runner-up Balko Des Flos. He said: "He's run a fantastic race and Denis [O'Regan] gave him a brilliant ride. His jumping was amazing and it does look that he's a horse who relishes good or yielding ground."

Gordon Elliott said of Outlander, on whom Rachael Blackmore deputised for the sidelined Jack Kennedy: "He's run a cracker and for a moment before the last fence I thought he might repeat last year's win."

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He's a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender now
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