The former American National winner Jury Duty was unable to make a winning return back to the pointing fields when he was forced to settle for the runners-up spot at Portrush on Saturday.
Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old, who recorded the biggest success of his career when landing the valuable Grade 1 pot at Far Hills in 2018, had ventured back across the Atlantic on this very weekend last year in an attempt to defend his crown under Robbie Power, before having to settle for fourth behind the ex-Nicky Henderson runner Brainn Power.
Twelve months on and the Well Chosen gelding was back in pointing action for the first time since finishing third as a four-year-old at Ballyarthur back in 2015.
Still in the care of Gordon Elliott and owners the Sideways Syndicate, the 149-rated chaser had the former champion rider Jamie Codd aboard for the Millar Family open at the seaside Co. Derry venue.
Jumping off tracking what looked to be his main danger on paper, Winged Leader, it was that horse, the youngest of the five seasoned runners, who took the field along until Mount Beckham moved through heading into the second half of the race.
It was David Christie’s Winged Leader who moved on once again after jumping the fourth last, and from that point he was never headed, as although Jury Duty tried to close coming to the penultimate fence, Barry O’Neill’s move had proved decisive as they crossed the line with six lengths to spare over Jury Duty, with a further four lengths back to the three-time open winner Coastal Tiep in third.
For Winged Leader the success represened his eighth in all and fifth on the bounce following previous victories at Kirkistown, Farmacaffley, Down Royal and most recently last month at Necarne, and the progressive six-year-old, who is owned by the Portrush hotelier John Hegarty, is now set to be aimed at next month’s new Hunter Chase at the point-to-point raceday in Fairyhouse.
This latest victory formed part of a double for connections on the day as they later combined to win the concluding Gormley's Pharmacy & Jazz Horses older maiden with the ex-Paul O'Connell-trained Ask D'Man a horse that was having his stable debut.