Day to savour for Jack Kennedy as Outlander makes it count in Lexus Chase
HE may only be 17, but jockey Jack Kennedy not only secured his first Grade One winner when Outlander claimed the Lexus Chase - but he also notched the 100th success of his fledgling career.
Kennedy, attached to the winning stable of Gordon Elliott, was already destined for the top before this notable victory, the biggest of his short spell in the saddle to date, at Leopardstown.
He was only aboard Outlander because Bryan Cooper, retained rider for owners Gigginstown House Stud, instead chose to partner Valseur Lido, trained Henry de Bromhead.
To be fair to Cooper, he looked to have chosen correctly for most of the three-mile contest.
Having travelled sweetly throughout, Valseur Lido touched down after the last narrowly in front of Outlander and Don Poli, another Gigginstown representative, but halfway up the run-in Cooper knew he was in trouble.
Outlander (11-1) stayed on stoutly to hold off stablemate Don Poli and the favourite Djakadam by two and a quarter lengths and a head respectively.
Valseur Lido faded into fourth, with Jonjo O'Neill's two runners, Taquin Du Seuil and More Of That, upsides in fifth and sixth.
Kennedy said: "He ran a great race the last day in the John Durkan, a length and a quarter behind Djakadam, and I was fairly lucky Bryan picked Valseur Lido so I was lucky to get on Outlander.
"He travelled and jumped brilliantly. He didn't miss a beat the whole way.
"He might have got in a bit deep to the last with a circuit to go but, other than that, he never missed one.
"I thought going to the last maybe I was there a bit soon - it was a lonely old run-in - but he dug deep and kept going.
"I was afraid something would come and do me but he kept going.
"All the family are here and it was great riding my 100th winner and my first Grade One."
Elliott was especially proud of his protege.
He said: "He's a big part of the team at home and he's my man, so I'm trying to bring him along.
"I'm delighted for him."
The County Meath handler had intended to send Outlander for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day but made a late switch when Thistlecrack, the eventual winner, was announced as a runner.
The eight-year-old was also under consideration for a much smaller race at Tramore on Sunday, but the decision to go for the Lexus proved inspired as he produced a career-best effort on what was his fifth start of the season since leaving Willie Mullins.
Elliott went on: "It was touch and go whether he ran here or went to Tramore, but with the ground drying out we decided to come here.
"He was only beaten about a length by Djakadam at Punchestown the last day, and one jump made the difference between winning and losing.
"I suppose the obvious race is to come back here for the Gold Cup (in February).
"I'm delighted with Don Poli, and I'd say the Grand National is the plan with him."
Winning owner Michael O'Leary said: "The best news from the race was probably Don Poli after the way he ran in Down Royal.
"It was a great training performance by Gordon with the first two. Outlander only ran a few weeks ago, and he's also done a great job getting Don Poli back to form.
"I thought coming here that if we had a Gold Cup horse it was Valseur Lido.
"He didn't finish out his race and maybe he will go back for the Ryanair."