Flanagan getting respect he's due
Seán Flanagan had finished with the game, decided not to renew his licence and opted to explore pastures new. This was only a few years ago, but yesterday Flanagan rode his second Grade One winner, and the biggest of his career, as Road To Respect won the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, formally known as the Lexus.
If he hadn't had a phone call from a friend in need who required somebody to do some work riding out one morning, Flanagan could quite literally have been anywhere in the world, doing something totally different.
But after stints in Britain and America, the rocky road to big race glory at Leopardstown eventually brought him to Noel Meade's and he hasn't looked back since.
Flanagan teamed up with Meade and seamlessly slotted in as Paul Carberry's replacement as stable jockey with the former champion trainer, on Carberry's advice to his old boss.
Meade speaks glowingly about Flanagan and vice versa and it's clear that their working relationship is still continuing to blossom, albeit now in its second and most fruitful season.
Meade yesterday described Flanagan's winning ride on Road To Respect as "a peach" and it was hard to argue as he took his time and carried the yellow Gigginstown cap to victory in a race which saw Michael O'Leary's five runners filling first, second, third, fifth and sixth places in the €150,000 contest.
Yorkhill soon took up the running in what looked a vintage renewal of the event but it was clear well before we got to the business end that the quirky seven-year-old wasn't going to be landing a blow on his first tilt at three miles. He was last of the eight finishers that passed the post, 27 lengths behind the distressed Sizing John, who was second last.
Form students will struggle to weigh up this one with Galway Plate winner Balko Des Flos running the race of his life but Noel Meade won't mind what way the race is judged and nothing could be taken away from his game winner, who is now just 12/1 from 20/1 with BoyleSports for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
A winner at the Cheltenham Festival last season, Road To Respect may return to Leopardstown in February prior to returning to the Cotswolds but that was a worry for another day.
"He's a Gold Cup contender now so he'll go for the Gold Cup," said a tearful Meade afterwards.
"We were very hopeful today as he was in terrific form but we knew he had to improve a lot, but we thought he might as he did a little bit of work in Fairyhouse last week and did it very well."
Meade added: "Whether he runs in between now and Cheltenham or not I don't know. I suppose if he did he would run back here but we have to think where Disko is going to go as well. We'll talk to Eddie and Michael and see what they are going to do."
Flanagan, meanwhile, is dreaming of a potential Gold Cup date. "He's done everything perfectly today. There was no hiding place and I thought half way down the back I was too far back but I was flat out and couldn't have been much closer," he said. "It was a good true run race, and when I got a bit of room after jumping the second last I came alive.
"He's loads of speed and is a very good horse.
"I wouldn't be worried about staying another two furlongs the way he settled there today, and he obviously handles the track in Cheltenham having won there before."
Michael O'Leary's first day racing this week and only day "not babysitting kids" had already been worth the trip to Foxrock as he saw Apple's Jade edge out Supasundae in the dying strides of the Christmas Hurdle and claim her seventh Grade One victory on her first tilt at three miles.
O'Leary and Willie Mullins might have contrasting views on training fees but they would also have had very different emotions leaving Leopardstown yesterday as O'Leary enjoyed a four-timer, while Mullins had a day he'll be keen to forget.
As Apple's Jade and Supasundae were serving up a thrilling finish, the screens surrounded the bypassed last hurdle where vets were unable to save Mullins' Stayers Hurdle winner Nichols Canyon, who fell at the last with a circuit to go.
The eight-time Grade One winner will be a massive loss to the yard after a stellar career which included his Morgiana Hurdle victory at Punchestown when he beat Faugheen and remains the only horse to have managed that feat.
This time last year Mullins was in the middle of saddling 22 winners in four days, but yesterday was a rare blank across both Leopardstown and Limerick and there's no doubt that Mullins will be a relieved man if he can get Faugheen back to the winner's enclosure this afternoon.