Noel Meade is hoping Road To Respect can atone for a slightly unfortunate experience last time out when he runs in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Having won impressively on his seasonal return at Down Royal, the eight-year-old was sent off the 9-4 favourite to successfully defend his crown in the Savills Chase over Christmas.
Everything appeared to be going well until four fences from home, where he was short of room, and then at the next fence he stumbled, losing all chance as the Willie Mullins-trained Kemboy scooted clear. It was to his credit he stayed on strongly to take third.
“He was travelling well. It was a peculiar race because they went no gallop and David (Mullins) got plenty of plaudits for his ride on the winner afterwards,” said Meade.
“It became more like a six- or seven-furlong sprint than a three-mile chase.
“Our plan that day was to go around the inside as he did last year and everything was going well until they went no gallop and then he slipped twice.
“It all felt apart. That’s racing and the fact there was no gallop caused all the horses to concertina together.”
One place in front of Road To Respect was Henry de Bromhead’s Monalee, but he appeared to have no such excuses, making the running early before tracking Kemboy on the final circuit and being beaten seven and a half lengths.
“We were happy with his run at Christmas and we’ll take our chance again and see,” said De Bromhead.
Monalee also has an entry in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and the trainer admits he is not totally convinced if his charge fully stays three miles.
“I’m not sure if he stays at this stage to be honest. I thought he did, but I think you’d have to start questioning that,” he said.
“I think we’ll give it another go and see.”
De Bromhead also saddles Savills Chase ninth Balko Des Flos.
Despite deciding against bringing Kemboy back to the Dublin circuit, Mullins still has a strong hand with Al Boum Photo and Bellshill both declared.
Al Boum Photo made a smart start to his campaign when landing a Listed prize at Tramore on New Year’s Day, while Bellshill can be expected to improve for his his comeback run when fourth behind Kemboy over the festive period.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “I have my own theory about Bellshill – I just think he’s a much better horse going right-handed.
“He ran well the last day and should improve. He has some good form going left-handed, but I think he’s only been beaten once going the other way and that was when he was unlucky in last year’s Irish Grand National.
“I think Al Boum Photo’s performance at Tramore on New Year’s Day – beating Total Recall and Invitation Only when giving them both weight – has probably been overlooked.
“He’d improved with every run and we’re expecting a big show from him.”
Gordon Elliott is well represented, with Savills Chase fifth and sixth – Outlander and The Storyteller – joined by stablemate Noble Endeavor.
“Outlander loves the place and he wasn’t beaten that far in the race the last day,” said Elliott.
“It’s the same with The Storyteller, who made a mistake at the last and would have been a little bit closer if he jumped that.
“Noble Endeavor could probably do with a little bit of rain but he’s in very good form at home.”
Joseph O’Brien’s Edwulf was a surprise winner 12 months ago but has struggled since – most recently finishing eighth in the Savills Chase – and is once again a big price.
“He ran a nice enough race the last day but it was a very messy, slow race and they sprinted for the last six (furlongs),” said O’Brien.
“He’s in good form, but he probably wants softer ground ideally.
“Derek (O’Connor) knows him well and there’s not much point changing now.”
Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly – third in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup – completes the 10-strong field.