Donn's Articles » Noel Meade

Noel Meade

It is handy that Road To Respect and Disko live next door to each other at Noel Meade’s.  Millionaire Row.  Road To Respect the chestnut horse in the box on the left, Disko the grey on the right. 

They talk to each other for sure.  There is even a gap in the dividing wall through which Road To Respect can stick his head when he thinks that Disko is garnering more than his share of attention. 

The hue of their respective coats may differ, but they share many traits: both trained by Noel Meade, both owned by Gigginstown House Stud, both second season chasers, both six years old, both with a solitary victory over hurdles on their CVs, both Grade 1 winners as novice chasers.  Both standing on a rung of a ladder that could take them to the very top of steeplechasing’s tree.

It looked like the two horses might take different paths this week, that Disko could go to Kempton to contest the King George VI Chase on Tuesday, and that Road To Respect could stay at home to contest the Leopardstown Christmas Chase at Leopardstown on Thursday.  But no.  Both horses are staying in Ireland.

“We just didn’t see the point in taking Disko to Kempton,” says Noel Meade thoughtfully.  “It looks like a very good King George this year, so why would you take him over there to take them all on?  Travel over and travel back, and all that that entails?  Better to stay at home, avoid a potentially tough journey.  Road To Respect will go for the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, and Disko could join him there.”

They both went to Down Royal on the same day last month.  Road To Respect ran a huge race to finish second in the Grade 1 Champion Chase, while Disko won the Grade 2 intermediate chase.

“The disappointing thing about Road To Respect’s defeat was that, at every stage of the race, it looked like he was going to win.  He did jump to his left, but even going to the last fence it looked good.  Then he landed flat-footed over the last, and by the time Sean (Flanagan) got him going forward again, the other lad had the momentum and he just couldn’t catch him.  They didn’t go a great gallop, and he was probably doing a bit too much during the race.  He should do better with a stronger pace.  Even so, we were delighted with the run.  Delighted with the run, but disappointed that he got beaten.”

Some 35 minutes later, Disko went out and landed the intermediate chase.  Disko was dynamite.  Sean Flanagan kicked him out of the gate, he jumped superbly and he led all the way.

“It was great that Disko did it so well.  But you must remember, the calibre of opposition that he met that day, in a Grade 2 intermediate chase, is very different to the calibre of opposition that he’s going to have to face now.”

Meade is a realist.  Feet on the ground.  He recognises the potential that the two horses have, but he also realises how much further they have to go if they are to get to the top of the tree.

“I hope that we can get up there, but we still have a good bit to go to get onto the coat tails of Sizing John.  He is the Gold Cup winner and he was very impressive at Punchestown.  He looked better than ever.”

Meade has never tried to hide the regard in which he holds Disko.  Even before the Martaline gelding made his racecourse debut in a bumper at Punchestown in February 2015, he was highly regarded at home.  A stress fracture meant that he had to miss the belly of his novice hurdling season, but he made up for that last term as a novice chaser, when he won the Grade 1 Flogas Chase at Leopardstown and the Grade 1 Growise Chase at Punchestown.  And he lost no caste in finishing a close-up third behind Yorkhill in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham in March.

“He ran a big race at Cheltenham,” says Meade, “but he ran as if he would appreciate going up in trip from that two and a half miles.  He gallops and he stays, they are his two main attributes.”

Road To Respect was trained by Eoin Griffin as a hurdler.  A three parts brother to Road To Riches, whom Meade trained to win a Galway Plate and a Lexus Chase and to finish third in a Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Gigginstown House horse made his debut for Meade when he made his victorious debut over fences in a beginners’ chase at Naas in November last year. 

“It’s never nice when a horse leaves you, I know how hard it is, and Eoin did a great job with him, but I suppose when Gigginstown consolidated the few trainers that they had, we were lucky enough that we got Road To Respect, probably because of Road To Riches.  Obviously we didn’t go looking for him or anything like that, but when he turned up here, we were very happy.”

Road To Respect was seriously impressive in winning the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.  Then he came back to Fairyhouse in April and landed the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup, beating the leftward-leaning Yorkhill by a neck.

Ask Meade to compare his two horses, and he struggles.  It’s not that they don’t work together, but they don’t work together to find out which is better.  Road To Respect would probably have more pace than Disko, but Disko is a galloper and, over a longer distance, his stamina comes into play.  But it isn’t that Road To Respect does not have stamina and, with his pace, he could be a top class stayer. 

Which of your children do you prefer?

“In a sense, it doesn’t really matter, because they both have to step up now if they are going to be competitive against the big horses.”

They both have the potential to do that.  That’s another trait that they share.  

© The Sunday Times, 24th December 2017