Noel Meade reports Road To Respect to be in rude health ahead of his return to action in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal on Saturday.
The seven-year-old was narrowly beaten by fellow Gigginstown House Stud-owned runner Outlander in this Grade One contest a year ago, before enjoying his day in the sun in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase.
Meade’s charge went on to finish fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and third in the Punchestown Gold Cup, and the Tu Va handler is delighted with his charge ahead of his seasonal reappearance.
Meade said: “He’s in great form and everything has gone well. He’s in great shape and I couldn’t be happier with him at the moment.
“It’s his first race of the season, so I’m sure he’ll improve, but he’s fit and well and he does run well fresh.
“We purposely kept him fresh and we’re looking forward to running him.”
The Gigginstown team have claimed this prize in each of the last five years and appear intent on adding to their tally, with Road To Respect and defending champion Outlander among a five-strong assault for Michael O’Leary’s operation.
Outlander’s trainer Gordon Elliott also saddles Don Poli, while Henry de Bromhead runs last season’s Ryanair Chase hero Balko Des Flos and the race-fit Sub Lieutenant, who has won on his two most recent outings.
“Balko Des Flos seems in good form. We’re very happy with him,” said de Bromhead.
“He’s run well fresh before, so we’ll see. It will be good to get him started.
“Sub Lieutenant has been in great form and we’re looking forward to running him, too.”
The seven-strong field is completed by Jessica Harrington’s pair of Woodland Opera and Sandymount Duke.
Woodland Opera steps up in class after following up successive wins over hurdles with an impressive win in the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park.
Harrington said: “If you’d told me in the spring these two horses would be running in the race I would have said you were stupid as you would have thought the ground would be too soft.
“It’s amazing these summer horses are still going, but the ground is good and they’re both in good form, so we might as well have a go.”
She added: “Woodland Opera’s win in Gowran has been well franked with Jury Duty (second) going on to win a big race in America and Peregrine Run (third) winning in Wexford.
“He and Sandymount Duke are hard-fit from the summer and if some of the others aren’t at their best then we might have a chance.”