La Bague Au Roi made every yard of the running to land a second Grade One in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
One of only a handful of British challengers to run at the Dublin Racing Festival, Warren Greatrex’s mare was dropping back three furlongs in trip after winning the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
Richard Johnson duly set out to make it a stamina test and was allowed to do his own thing at the head of affairs, with La Bague Au Roi jumping soundly in the main, but turning into the straight all of the runners still had a chance.
With Gordon Elliott pulling Delta Work out due to the quick ground, his hopes rested on Hardline and he looked completely out of it at one stage before staying on strongly.
It was the outsider Kaiser Black who travelled supremely well and emerged as the main danger, but La Bague Au Roi galloped on powerfully to win by a length and a quarter as the 10-11 favourite.
Johnson said: “I think the mares have stolen the show this weekend. She’s just a pleasure to ride and gives everything.
“We thought we’d pop out, but I wasn’t sure how quick the others wanted to go.
“If anything, I could have done with some company four out because she’d been on her own a while, so I waited until they came to me off the bend before going to win the race.
“It’s a long time ago now, but I remember riding Florida Pearl here one day and it’s a long way from the second last to the line. Ideally I wanted to wait until we turned in and I felt in the last few yards I was pulling away again.
“Warren has done a great job with her and she’s really improved in the last two years. We think a flat track is ideal and she’ll probably miss Cheltenham, though the owners and Warren will decide, but Aintree could be next.”
Greatrex is in no hurry to make a decision on Cheltenham and is eager to do right by his stable star.
He said: “She’s so tough and an absolute pleasure to train. The plan has paid off.
“I think it’s really important that we come over and support a meeting like this. The Irish are so strong and to come over here in their own backyard and win is great.
“She has put a lot into that today and I’m not sure about Cheltenham – we’ll sleep on it.
“I know Richard’s first thoughts were not Cheltenham. He said she’s put everything into that today and she needs a bit longer. There is huge prize-money at Aintree as well and I’ve said all along the track might suit her better.
“The temptation will be there, but we need to do what’s best for her and if that means she needs a bit longer, then so be it.
“To win two Grade Ones is fantastic and I think she’s as good a mare as we’ve seen for a long while. The Gold Cup is not beyond the realms of possibility some day.
“She’s very much a horse that needs to be in her own rhythm and not anyone else’s, whether that’s leading or not. She was getting lonely out in front, but she will keep pulling it out for you and is so tough and knows where the winning line is.”