Should Gigginstown star Samcro switch to fences or stick to hurdles this season?
The mighty Gigginstown House Stud fronted by Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary and brother Eddie have one of National Hunt horse racing’s hottest prospects in Samcro.
Trained by Gordon Elliott, the six-year-old has won seven of his eight starts under rules including the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival back in March.
Samcro then entered open company for the first time over the smaller obstacles in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle at their end-of-season festival but fell when going well three out.
“The Champion Hurdle at Punchestown was supposed to tell us where we were going,” Eddie O’Leary told the Racing Post. “If he’d won that he was staying over hurdles, and if he was beaten we were going chasing.
“Samcro could stay over hurdles, but we could still go chasing. We’ve never had a Champion Hurdle winner, so it’d be great to have one of those. Samcro was made for chasing, and he’ll do it whether it’s this season or next – that was what he was bought to do.”
It’s decision time for connections but, with Samcro ante post favourite for both the Arkle Challenge Trophy over 2m and 2m 4f JLT Novices’ Chase, what will be his season target?
Weak hurdling division could be there for the taking
As O’Leary pointed out, Gigginstown’s famous maroon and white star silks have never been carried to victory in the Champion Hurdle with the owners’ best to date being third place in 2017.
Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air has dominated British hurdling recently, having won his last seven starts over the smaller obstacles, and the plan for the JP McManus owned seven-year-old will surely be to land the Cheltenham Festival hat-trick in 2019. He is given odds of 7/2 to do so.
That would put Buveur D’Air in amongst the all-time hurdling greats on paper, but in practice he is suffering from a lack of genuine competition on his side of the Irish Sea.
Willie Mullins raider Melon is likely to come again for Champion Hurdle honours after going down by a neck in the most recent renewal, yet for all the fanfare surrounding that one he has only won twice – a maiden and a Grade 2 – since joining the yard. He is priced at 8/1 by 888 to go one better than last time.
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With an obvious lack of strength-in-depth in the division coming into the new National Hunt season, Samcro is in with a shout if sticking to hurdles and has racing odds of 7/1 with 888 to break that Gigginstown duck in the Champion Hurdle.
The only question mark hanging over him relates to taking that tumble at Punchestown. In a true top-class race, is Samcro’s hurdling good enough to enable him to get the owners’ monkey off their back in one of the few valuable races they’ve never won?
Options aplenty over fences
As O’Leary notes, Samcro is a chasing type and was bought by Gigginstown to do exactly that. Handler Elliott saddled stablemate Shattered Love to land the JLT spoils for connections at this year’s Cheltenham Festival and they have a very respectable record of two winners and two thirds in eight runnings of the race.
While Samcro is a strong favourite for that off the back of his Ballymore win, the more valuable contest in prize money terms is the Arkle. He only had two outings of further than 2m in his career to date, so while he stays further this trip suits on his hurdles form.
Gigginstown have never had an Arkle winner carry their colours with their best effort to date being third. The owners have been successful in the 3m RSA Chase twice before, however, but that is unknown territory trip-wise for Samcro, who clearly has options.