There’s no denying it: last season’s most eye-catching novice, Samcro, has had a bit of a mare so far in 2018/19.
Victory in the Ballymore back in March was confirmation of one of racing’s worst-kept secrets: the Gigginstown five-year-old was one of the hottest young chasers on the block.
However, a fall in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle in April just set tongues wagging, and the Gordon Elliott trained horse has not enjoyed the best of starts this term either.
Samcro was second on his seasonal return in the WKD Hurdle – not ideal when a 4/9 favourite with the bookies, and a month later he was comprehensively beaten by eight lengths by Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth.
Is the six-year-old a busted flush? It would be foolhardy to write him off at this early stage of his career, but progress has stalled….and that makes Saturday’s Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown all the more exciting.
Also in the mix for honours is Melon, who finished second in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, Sharjah, Supasundae and the WKD Hurdle winner, Bedrock. That’s a field sure to test the mettle of Samcro once more.
Unfortunately, punters won’t get a glimpse of Laurina, an 18-length winner at the festival who is yet to emerge this season.
Elliott on the Defensive
A powerhouse once described by Davy Russell as ‘as good a horse as we’ll ever see’, the fall from grace for Samcro has been quick and marked.
There are caveats, of course. Defeat in your seasonal return is not the sign of an apocalypse, and he was travelling well when hitting the deck in that Punchestown Champion Hurdle renewal.
And it should be noted that Buveur D’Air is a sublime runner with plenty more Grade 1 glory to come.
Gordon Elliott was in defensive mood after the Fighting Fifth, and his usual bullishness about Samcro’s chances was noticeable by its absence. “No excuses. He’s been beaten by a very, very good horse,” the Irish trainer said afterwards.
Even more worrying for supporters was the notion that Samcro would be hidden from Buveur D’Air, a possible Champion Hurdle challenger in March, until then. “You can’t be scared of one horse, and we’ll probably try to avoid him in the meantime,” were Elliott’s words, said with a hint of resignation.
Ante Post Punters Ready to Make their Move
Of course, Samcro could demolish the field, Melon could show his class or a new contender could emerge at Leopardstown on Saturday, and that would throw Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle wide open come March.
There’s also the chance that Laurina will continue her upward trend, whenever she re-emerges.
But right now the ante post market favours Buveur D’Air at around 6/4 for that renewal, and most would agree he is streets ahead of his likely challengers.
The seven-year-old suffered a humiliating defeat in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day, but he was held up in the early going and besides this is a horse that thrives on softer ground; that may well be the case come March should the rest of winter take a turn for the worse.
With question marks over many of his main rivals, Nicky Henderson’s French fancy is the pick of the crop for the Champion Hurdle right now.