ROAD To Riches emerged as a serious contender for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup when pouncing late to claim the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
Connections of Noel Meade’s charge had expressed concerns about the heavy ground, but the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding allayed those fears with a gutsy display. Prominent in the early stages, Bryan Cooper was hard at work to keep Road To Riches involved as the race hotted up but he was still in with a shout at the last where On His Own and Sam Winner were battling it out.
Road To Riches (4-1) proved game for the task as he got up on the run to the line to supplement his JNWine.com Champion Chase triumph by a length- and-a-half from the pace-setting On His Own with Sam Winner third.
“I’m thrilled. Things didn’t go quite to plan as we thought we’d be able to make it. He was getting hassled up front early on, but it worked out well in the end,” said Meade. “We knew he was in great shape and he’s been improving all the time since Punchestown.
“The way he came home, I’d imagine it’s all systems go for Cheltenham. You’d say he’d get the trip. He really stuck on well there. I thought that was a good race today and thought it was every bit as good as the King George.”
Cooper said: “He showed today that he doesn’t have to be ridden from the front and he showed he stays. He answered all the questions today. I knew I had plenty of horse left but he doesn’t like to be crowded. I didn’t want to get into a battle with Sam Winner from the second last as he’s an out-and-out stayer. Our lad has a touch of class and showed that today.”
Road To Riches was trimmed to 14-1 from 20-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Paddy Power and to 8-1 from 16s with RaceBets.
On His Own’s rider Paul Townend was banned for four days for using his whip with excessive frequency.
Cooper and Gigginstown also lifted the other Grade One race on the card, the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle with the Sandra Hughes-trained Lieutenant Colonel (4-1). The winner had beaten Jetson by four lengths in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse four weeks earlier but the margin was down to only three-quarters of a length this time after a pulsating duel. “He was very good. We thought that he stayed and I’m delighted. He was brilliant,” said Hughes, who took over the licence after the death of her father Dessie last month. “The World Hurdle at Cheltenham is his main aim this season.”
Paddy Power cut Lieutenant Colonel to 14-1 from 25s for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham while BetVictor offer 10s from 16-1.
It was a treble for Cooper and Gigginstown as Identity Thief (7-4), trained by Henry de Bromhead, made a winning debut over jumps in the At The Races Maiden Hurdle.
Dianne Ser is keeping her fingers crossed the weather is kind to Kelso today as she has a fancied runner in the shape of Endeavor in the feature race. Doncaster’s meeting has already fallen to the weather and there is a 6.45am inspection at Kelso.
The Cumbrian raider is due to face eight rivals in the Monteith Memorial Handicap Chase. Sayer said: “He loves Kelso as he has won five times there. He’s a star and this looks a nice race for him. I know he’s been called a little bit of a monkey but he’s won 12 races so that’s not too bad is it.”
Among those in opposition to Endeavor are Little Glenshee and Lucinda Russell trio Vengeur de Guye and Shine A Diamond along with last year’s winner, Ballycool.