Flanagan's fine double
Palace East jockey in fantastic form at Leopardstown
Sean Flanagan from Palace East had one of the best days of his riding career at Leopardstown on Thursday when winning the €150,000 Grade 1 Christmas Chase with Road to Respect, and followed up to make it a double in the next race with Snow Falcon, both trained by Noel Meade.
The big festival meetings at Leopardstown and Limerick featured many of the top Irish fancies for Cheltenham in March but the picture has been muddied rather than clarified in most cases after a series of high-profile flops and a bit of a nightmare week for Willie Mullins and his jockey, Paul Townend.
The strength of Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown operation was again very evident and was the most dominant aspect of the week.
Seán Flanagan has been having the best season of his ten-year career after being appointed Meade's stable jockey in September, 2016, and this was the icing on the cake for him as he led home a phalanx of Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown stud runners that filled places 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6.
He already has over 50 winners two-thirds through the season, exceeding last year's previous best of 43.
He has won almost €900,000 so far. It is a great career revival for the Wexford man who was questioning his future after recording just 29 winners in the five seasons from 2010-'11 to 2014-'15. It is great to see his talent being appreciated and rewarded.
The Christmas Chase had a high-quality field but some of the big guns failed to fire, including triple Gold Cup winner Sizing John and Cheltenham runner-up Djakadam.
Despite a slight mistake at the last, Flanagan's mount took it up and Road to Respect resisted all challengers at a tasty (8/1).
Meade was effusive in his praise for his jockey. 'He settled great and he gave him a most beautiful ride. I suppose when it works out it's always a great ride but it was actually an absolute peach of a ride…Seán has gone from strength to strength for us since he took over and we couldn't be happier.
'We get on very well together and he rides very well. The more confidence he gets the better he is riding.'
The horse will now be aimed at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Wexford man had a much easier task in the €15,000 beginners' chase when Snow Falcon (11/8) put his rivals to the sword to win by 28 lengths, the fall of favourite Bacardys (5/6) at the tenth possibly easing his task.
Earlier, point-to-point champion Barry O'Neill (Kiltealy) won the bumper on Joseph O'Brien's Alighted (16/1) for Gigginstown with an excellent ride on a horse that was difficult enough to control, seeing off Katie Walsh and Patrick Mullins in a hard-fought finish.
Meanwhile, on the awards front, congratulations to Aidan O'Brien who won the Irish Independent/Croke Park Hotel Sports Person of the Year overall award recently, well deserved after a record-breaking season.
These awards are based on those who have been selected as sports stars of the week throughout 2017.
Dublin footballers got the team of the year; Con O'Callaghan the young player of the year, Joe Canning the 'moment of the year' for his last gasp winner from the sideline in the semi-final against Tipperary, and athlete Sonia O'Sullivan was inducted into the hall of fame.
It strikes me that these awards gave a much more rounded view of 2017 than the RTE Sports Awards which gave the top gong to soccer player James McClean, and selected the Irish showjumpers ahead of the Dubs for team honours.
Jimmy Fortune from Ferns retired during the year after a long and successful flat career and he was honoured with a special recognition award when the prestigious Stobart 'Lesters' were presented on Friday.
There were just nine awards and it was a great tribute to Fortune that he was included.
Wexford almost got another one - Derek Fox won best jumps ride of the year for his win in the Grand National on One For Arthur which began his career as a pointer with Liam Kenny here in Wexford. Second in the race was Jamie Codd on Cause of Causes and he was just a couple of yards from a sensational success.