Road lands Lexus riches
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 (4-1) had expressed concerns about the heavy ground, but the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding allayed those fears with a gutsy display.
Bryan Cooper was hard at work some way from home aboard the winner, who had lost his pitch after racing prominently, but he showed plenty of determination as he got up on the run to the line to score by a length and a half from On His Own, with Sam Winner third.
Road To Riches was prominent from the start with On His Own while Home Farm, the outsider of the party, fell at the first.
There were no other dramas as the race unfolded on the second circuit, though last year's winner Bobs Worth and Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere were held up and never got into contention.
Sam Winner staked his claim when going into the lead after the fourth-last, but On His Own stuck to his guns, while Carlingford Lough also threatened as the field turned for home with all to play for.
It was still anybody's race at the final fence, but Road To Riches came out on top as he supplemented his victories in the Galway Plate and the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal.
Meade said: "We're thrilled. It really didn't go to plan because we thought we'd be able to make it, but he was getting a bit of hassle from the other horse. I think around the last bend, he just didn't get the run of it really, but it worked out well for him I suppose.
"He's a fair horse. We knew he was in great shape, and he's just improved and improved all the time since Punchestown. He's just got better and better every day.
"He is exciting and the way he came home, you'd imagine it's all systems go for Cheltenham, I presume. You'd say he'll get the trip the way he stayed on there, he really stuck at it well.
"We did the same with him that we did after Punchestown and left him off. It was never the plan to run at Gowran (in October) and he was a bit of work short (when beaten by Sizing Europe). We learned a lesson there. Bryan rode him work in Navan last week and was delighted with him.
"I thought that was a good race today and thought it was every bit as good as the King George."
Cooper, completing a treble for Gigginstown including the day's other Grade One on Lieutenant Colonel, said: "He was very good. Things didn't go according to plan, but 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."
Paul Townend was handed a four-day suspension by the stewards for using his whip with excessive force on runner-up On His Own.
Road To Riches was trimmed to 14-1 from 20-1 for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup by Paddy Power.