Ballymore remains Cheltenham target for hotpot Samcro
Eddie O’Leary rules out audacious festival double attempt by supermare Apple’s Jade
Unless the weather goes “Sodom and Gomorrah”, Ballymore will be the plan for Samcro, said Eddie O’Leary. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Uncertainty about likely ground conditions is dominating the run-in to Cheltenham next week, although Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team insists the weather will have to go “Sodom and Gomorrah” for Samcro to be switched from his festival target.
With the going at Cheltenham currently “soft” and wet conditions predicted for the weekend, there has been some support for Samcro for the festival opener, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, although many people’s “Irish banker” for the week remains odds-on for the following day’s Ballymore.
O’Leary’s Gold Cup hope Road To Respect is one Gigginstown horse who won’t relish conditions getting softer. However, the Ryanair chief executive’s brother and racing manager, Eddie O’Leary, has maintained the going won’t be a major issue for most of Gigginstown’s near-30 runners next week.
“What we call good to soft in Ireland, they call soft in England. They’re always a step better than we are. What we call soft, they call heavy; what we call heavy they wouldn’t race on,” said O’Leary on Monday. “It’s being called soft now and the forecast is for a wet couple of days, but then we’re told it will dry up next week as well. It’s all a moveable feast at the moment.”
What doesn’t appear to be moveable is Samcro’s festival target despite support for him with one firm in a “non-runner – no bet” market for the Supreme. Last week both Michael O’Leary and trainer Gordon Elliott didn’t discount a switch to the shorter race if conditions turn very testing.
However, Eddie O’Leary was adamant the two-mile-five-furlong Ballymore remains the target for their hugely exciting and unbeaten novice.
“The first thing to say is we don’t bet. The second is that we don’t give a s*** what price he is. I don’t know whose money it is but it isn’t ours,” he said.
“It’s still a long way to Tuesday but the Ballymore has always been the plan. If it went un-raceably heavy, or if Sodom and Gomorrah comes, we might consider it [Supreme]. But there isn’t that much rain forecast. The Ballymore is the plan,” O’Leary added.
Most firms are a shade of odds-on about “good to soft” being the official ground description for the first race of the festival. “Soft” is evens and “heavy” is generally a 10-1 shot.
Gigginstown won the inaugural leading owner award at last year’s festival with four winners – one more than JP McManus. The latter is a 5-4 favourite to get his revenge next week. O’Leary is a 6-4 shot with RaceBets and will again have a formidable team carrying his famous maroon colours.
“You would imagine we would have up to 25 or more going over, but there’s still a long way to go. We lost Cracking Smart last week and any phone call I get from a trainer from now on means losing one rather than adding one,” Eddie O’Leary said.
The Gigginstown spokesman ruled out the chance of an audacious tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle for Apple’s Jade should she successfully defend her OLBG Mares crown on day one of the festival.
Apple’s Jade will be declared for the Stayers’ Hurdle on the morning of the first day of Cheltenham, but O’Leary insisted: “She would only run in that if she did something stupid like whip around at the start, or fall at the first and have no race, in the Mares. Our focus is on the Mares.”
The two Gigginstown hopes O’Leary pinpointed as being potentially at a disadvantage on soft ground at Cheltenham are Road To Respect (Gold Cup) and Balko Des Flos in the Ryanair Chase.
“Both of them are better on better ground. We are looking forward to them on better ground. It’s why we didn’t run Road To Respect in the Irish Gold Cup. We got lucky with him at Leopardstown over Christmas. If it’s soft ground they’re in trouble – if it’s Irish soft. Of the rest of ours I don’t believe ground will be a huge issue,” he said.
Nervousness about Cheltenham hopefuls making it to the festival was emphasised with news that one of the top cross-channel hopes for the Arkle Trophy, Sceau Royal, misses the race because of a training setback.
“It is just a little niggle, but it is enough to stop us, and we have taken the decision we will not be taking him to Cheltenham. It’s a shame but this is what happens with horses, unfortunately, and there’s no point hiding it,” said Sceau Royal’s trainer Alan King.
“We won’t take any chances with him. If we feel he is not right we will stop for the season and bring him back next season,” he added.