Gigginstown House Stud's recent domination of the Grade 1 Christmas Chase continued at Leopardstown on Thursday when Road To Respect led home a maroon 1-2-3 in the race that used to be known as the Lexus and one that leading contenders Sizing John and Yorkhill failed to fire in, finishing down the field.
Trained by Noel Meade and ridden by Sean Flanagan, Road To Respect, who 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 Gigginstown operation its fourth straight success in the €150,000 contest.
Sizing John did not travel with his usual efficiency in the latter stages of the race and rider Robbie Power reported to the clerk of scales that the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, who trailed in seventh, finished distressed.
The Turf Club veterinary officer examined Sizing John at the request of the stewards and reported him to be 'clinically abnormal' post-race.
Meade said about his winner: "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."
The winner is now 10-1 (from 20) with Betfair for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Sizing John and Yorkhill's claims for that race took a hit following their tame efforts.
Tuesday's King George VI Chase winner Might Bite is Betfair's new favourite at 100-30, with Sizing John, winner of the Cheltenham highlight last term, drifting to 8-1 (from 9-2).
Flanagan, earning by far the biggest victory of his career, said: "He's 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 loads of speed and a very good horse."
Champion trainer Willie Mullins said of Yorkhill: "That was disappointing. On that evidence you'd have to think he might not have a future as a three-mile chaser. It will be back to the drawing board now."
On Sizing John, Power said: " He travelled well for the first four or five fences but was not going with his normal zest as we passed the winning post with a circuit to go.
"The vets have found something wrong but he's sound and we'll get him checked over in the morning. Hopefully it's nothing too serious."