Samcro adds lustre to his already sky-high reputation at Navan
Michael O’Leary’s giant chestnut got a perfect score for style in effortless demolition job
Samcro, ridden by Jack Kennedy, jumps the last to win the Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan Racecourse. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
There’s nothing more seductive for many racing fans than hitching their wagon early to the next big thing, and Samcro’s devastating Navan rout on Sunday enhanced his status as the National Hunt game’s next great white hope.
Michael O’Leary’s giant chestnut maintained his unbeaten record with an effortless dozen-length demolition in the Grade Three Monksfield Novice Hurdle.
The Ryanair boss famously favours function over style, but the latest superstar prospect to carry O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud colours gained a perfect 10 for artistic impression when scoring at 1-4 odds.
On just his second start over flights Samcro jumped impeccably for Jack Kennedy and quickened away from the second-last to win with any amount in hand. It left the 18-year-old jockey declaring it to be “definitely the best feel I’ve ever got from a horse”.
Not surprisingly bookmakers cut his Cheltenham odds, and Samcro is only 6-4 with some for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle on day two of the festival in March.
In recent years the race formerly known as the Neptune has been won by outstanding novices such as Faugheen (2014) and Yorkhill (2016). But more than three months from the festival, the racing public already appears to have latched on to Samcro with gusto.
A heady bumper reputation was embellished recently when top jockey Davy Russell described the Gordon Elliott runner as being “as good a horse as we’ll ever see” and labelled the near €380,000 O’Leary paid for him as “probably the cheapest horse that will ever be bought”.
O’Leary once chided Elliott for excitedly labelling Don Cossack an “aeroplane” after his bumper career so it’s interesting to ponder what he has said to his former retained jockey about such public enthusiasm. Elliott, however, still struggles to contain his enthusiasm for Samcro.
“Jack said he gave him a bit of light at the third-last and he just took off on him,” he said. “It was nice to see he could do that at two and a half so we have loads of options.”
A bit special
The first Grade One of 2018 – the Lawlor’s Hotel Hurdle at Naas in early January – could be Samcro’s next start, and on Sunday even Elliott conceded: “We’re lucky to have him. I thought that was a bit special what he did there. It was class.”
Don Cossack’s reputation dipped significantly before he ultimately graduated to Gold Cup glory, but expectation around Samcro already looks to be at another level again.
It’s rare for a horse starting out as a novice to operate under such a spotlight. Even Douvan had finished his first season before being elevated to such a status. Perhaps Florida Pearl was the last, and on Sunday some were even moved to make comparisons to Golden Cygnet from 40 years ago.
That legendary star was trained by Edward O’Grady, and the thoughts of everyone within racing over the weekend were with him and his family after his wife, Maria, tragically died on Saturday due to injuries sustained in a hunting accident. It is a loss to put context on anything, never mind fanciful speculation on what might or might not be the potential scale of a horse’s talent for racing.
It certainly put in perspective the burned fingers of those punters who bet the topweight Acapella Bourgeois down to 7-4 favourite for the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase. The horse fell at the seventh after an ominous mistake two fences earlier.
That left the door open for the 12-1 shot Mala Beach to give Gordon Elliott a fourth success in a row in the €100,000 feature. Davy Russell’s mount had almost three lengths in hand of Don’t Tell No One at the line with Bonny Kate in third and another of Elliott’s five starters, Poormans Hill, in fourth.
“It’s been a lucky race for us,” said the season’s leading trainer, who tops the trainer’s table and has €2 million in prize money for the season in Ireland already in his sights. Elliott was keen to praise Mala Beach’s owner, Chris Jones, for helping the winner return from injury problems.
“We’ve thought for a long time there’s a big race in him and I’m delighted he’s done it,” Elliott said. “If it ever came up soft at Aintree, he could be an English National horse.”
Willie Mullins moved on to 101 winners for the season, nine behind Elliott, when the 4-5 favourite Al Boum Photo made a winning debut over fences in the Beginners Chase.
The champion trainer and Paul Townend later endured frustration with Acapella Bourgeois but had combined for a hat-trick at Gowran on Saturday, and Al Boum Photo looks a useful recruit to chasing.
“He’s one to look forward to,” said Mullins after a race he won in recent years with Douvan, Vautour and Min. “He was doing his best work at the end. I think we will look at 2½ and three miles if the ground gets better.”
Mullins’s nephews, Emmet and David, combined to land the €50,000 Proudstown Handicap Hurdle with the 28-1 shot, Red Devil Lads. The winner showed admirable resolve to beat off the JP McManus pair Glenloe (9-4 favourite) and Mon Lino.
Crackerdancer showed a fine attitude, too, in the concluding Listed mares bumper, making much of the running under Eoin O’Brien and beating off the final challenge of Cordovan Brown. Supporters of the warm favourite, Lady Ischia, knew their fate early in the straight when she started to struggle.