Donn's Articles » Noel Meade

Noel Meade

Noel Meade won’t say it, but Road To Respect was unlucky in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.  Everything went well through the early stages of the race, Gigginstown House Stud’s horse coasted along the inside under Sean Flanagan, yellow cap bobbing up and down in sync with the horse’s gait. 

Then they jumped the fourth last fence, and he was checked as they turned.  Then they jumped the third last, and he stumbled as they turned again.  He lost ground and he lost momentum at a crucial stage of the race, when they were starting to quicken off a relatively sedate pace, when positioning and momentum were crucial.  In the space of a hundred yards, his chance of winning the race had dissolved.

In the circumstances, Road To Respect did really well to stay on as well as he did to finish third behind Kemboy and Monalee.  You can’t say that he would have won, Kemboy was an emphatic winner on the day.  But, with normal luck, he would at least have finished much closer to the winner than he did. 

“That’s horse racing,” says Noel Meade. 

Pragmatism from a man who has seen just about every aspect of the game. 

“These things happen.  We decided to go down the inside at Christmas, get him settled, get him jumping.  He can jump a bit to his left.  We’ll have a think about that the next time.” 

Next time is next Sunday.  Back to Leopardstown for the Unibet Irish Gold Cup, one of the jewels in the crown of Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.  Last year, Road To Respect by-passed the Dublin Racing Festival, went straight from Christmas to Cheltenham, where he finished a gallant fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on ground that was probably softer than ideal for him.  This year, he is set to take in Leopardstown. 

“We think that he’s a stronger horse this year than he was last year,” says Meade.  “He was only seven last year.  He’s eight now, he’s maturing.  And the timing of the Irish Gold Cup fits in really well, five weeks after Christmas, five weeks before Cheltenham.”

It has been a good season for Meade so far.  A steady stream of winners has seen his total creep up to 48, fifth in the championship.  He has bagged some of the big ones too: the Grade 1 Champion Chase with Road To Respect, the Kerry National with Snow Falcon, the Brown Lad Handicap Hurdle with De Name Escapes Me, and the Troytown Chase with Tout Est Permis, who went on to win the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles last Sunday.

“Tout Est Permis did well to win on Sunday.  Two and a half miles on good ground at Thurles is sharp enough for him, and he made that bad mistake on the far side.  The runner-up (Sub Lieutenant) is a good horse.  Our fellow showed a lot of courage.”

The Gigginstown House horse holds an entry in Sunday’s Irish Gold Cup, but it is almost certain that he will not be going to Leopardstown.  The race comes up quite quickly after Thurles.  Two weeks may not be long enough.

He also holds engagements at the Cheltenham Festival, in the Gold Cup and in the Ryanair Chase and, all going well, he will fulfill one of those engagements.  He may not race again before then.  Three for three for Meade this season, the Linda’s Lad gelding is only six, and there is no knowing how high he could go.

Valdieu is another who is bursting with potential.  It has taken him a while.  It took him seven attempts before he managed to win his bumper.

“He kept on coming up against very good horses.  City Island beat him at Punchestown last season.  Malone Road beat him at Down Royal this season.  We always liked him though.  We always thought that he had talent.”

It was at Down Royal on St Stephen’s Day this year that Valdieu finally got off the mark under Rules when he won his bumper, but he won his maiden hurdle on his first attempt, at Naas three weeks ago. 

He looked good that day.  He travelled like the most likely winner from the top of the home straight, he hit the front at the second last flight and he kept on well to win well.

“That race might not have been as strong as it looked beforehand.  Jessie’s mare Barrington Court didn’t run her race, but we were happy with our fellow on the day.”

Next up for Valdieu is the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.  It will not be easy.  Straight from a maiden into a Grade 1.  But he could be up to the challenge. 

Sunday will be a big day for Meade.  An hour and a half after Valdieu races in the novices’ hurdle, he will saddle Road To Respect for the Irish Gold Cup.  Exciting times.  Just hoping for normal luck now.  

© The Sunday Times, 27th January 2019