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Last Updated: 29/12/09 3:47pm
What A Friend - gutsy winner of Leopardstown feature.
Sam Thomas was the major beneficiary of the rescheduled Lexus Chase as he made the switch from Newbury to Leopardstown to score aboard Sir Alex Ferguson's What A Friend.
The Manchester United manager was at the Dublin track 24 hours earlier to see his Hennessy runner-up perform under Barry Geraghty, but the race was abandoned because of thick fog.
With Geraghty required at Newbury, Thomas climbed back aboard the Paul Nicholls-trained runner after the partnership performed with great credit behind Denman at Newbury last month.
As Joncol and Notre Pere traded blows at the head of the field for the lion's share of the three-mile test, What A Friend cruised around under Thomas and began to take closer order leaving the back stretch.
Joncol had won the battle for the lead heading to the final fence, but Thomas was in his slipstream and grabbed the initiative 100 yards from the finish in a nip-and-tuck climax.
Nicky Richards' Money Trix (14-1) was the surprise package and despite coming under pressure a long way out, he motored where it mattered and got within a half a length of What A Friend, relegating Joncol into third.
Thomas said: "He travels very well and jumps very well, which makes my life a lot easier.
"He had to dig deep and it is a long run-in - it felt a long way home from the last.
"I was keen to keep a lead as long as possible and we had something to aim at coming to the last.
"If you take Denman out he would have been a good winner of the Hennessy and all credit to him for coming here three weeks after that run.
"People thought he was ungenuine in the Hennessy when he wandered about going to the final fence but he was just trying so hard.
"Some great horses like Denman and Beef Or Salmon have won this race so hopefully our horse can go onto bigger and better things, and I think he might come back here for the Irish Hennessy."
The win was a huge fillip for Thomas, who lost his position as Nicholls' second jockey late last season and had been replaced by Geraghty for the original Lexus Chase.
He said: "I was disappointed not to be riding the horse in the first place but I got the opportunity today.
"I need to thank Tom George's owner Philip Nelson for letting me get off his horse to come over here.
"Barry Geraghty was due to ride him and has a lot of experience around here.
"Everything happens for a reason and the gods must have been looking down on me.
"Thank goodness for the fog!"
Nicholls, who saddled Denman to success in the 2007 Lexus Chase, added: "I am really chuffed for Sam.
"It all worked out really well and Sam rode him beautifully, as he is not an easy ride."
What A Friend is now a general 20-1 shot for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Nicholls is keen on swerving the race this year.
The Ditcheat handler added: "He'll definitely have an entry but I'm not sure I'd want to run him in the Gold Cup this year against Denman and Kauto.
"I'll discuss it with Ged (Mason) and Sir Alex but he has an enormous amount of ground to make up.
"I'd love to go to Aintree and Punchestown with him so those are my targets, the Irish Hennessy is another option but we might keep him fresh for the spring."
What A Friend is likely to face a rematch with Joncol and Money Trix if he runs in the Irish Hennessy in early February, with the latter's trainer praying for really testing ground in the new year.
Richards said: "He's run a good race but the ground wasn't soft enough.
"We have had a go at the big boys and it wasn't a shot in the dark. Davy (Russell) said he would have won in another 20 yards.
"We will come back and have another go in the Irish Hennessy and he belongs in amongst these horses.
"The ground is what really matters for him and he got a little tapped for toe when the pace quickened, but he came home very well as we knew he would."
Joncol looked all over the winner turning for home but was beaten a little under two lengths in third.
His trainer Paul Nolan said: "It is unfortunate that we seem so far behind the English horses.
"For What A Friend to come over and beat us like that, it puts us a long way behind.
"Hopefully he will improve a bit with age and I am delighted with his run, but I thought that we did have it.
"He'll come back and have another go in the Irish Hennessy."
Notre Pere weakened back into fourth, with Voy Por Ustedes sixth and runaway RSA Chase winner Cooldine, the 100-30 favourite, pulled up by Paul Townend.