Samcro aiming to justify hype against his seniors at Punchestown

Willie Mullins ready to take on Elliott superstar with five runners including Melon

Jack Kennedy and  Samcro on the way to victory in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Jack Kennedy and Samcro on the way to victory in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Samcro is the most hyped National Hunt horse for years and to justify it he probably not only has to win Punchestown’s Day Four festival feature but do so in style.

In many ways it’s an unfair expectation of the horse but then hype doesn’t really do fair.

Samcro’s owner, Michael O’Leary, has bucked the hard-sell instincts of his business life all season in an attempt to dampen excitement surrounding his horse and failed miserably.

Unbeaten in seven racecourse starts – eight if you count his point to point – Samcro looks to have the racing world at his feet after living up to his billing with success at Cheltenham last month.

Long acclaimed as a future Gold Cup winner in waiting, it looked significant that O’Leary’s usual inclination to go over fences was countered by trainer Gordon Elliott publicly musing on a Champion Hurdle campaign next season.

It’s in that context that Samcro steps out of novice class to take on his seniors in the €275,000 Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle.

Up against him is the Irish Champion Hurdle winner Supasundae and a five-strong team from Willie Mullins that includes the 2017 winner Wicklow Brave and last month’s Cheltenham runner-up Melon.

These are good horses and Melon is officially rated half a stone better than Samcro. But none of them have ever had ambitions to the heights so widely assumed for their young rival.

It’s thumbing your nose at the presumptive Gods to categorise them as mere trial tackle.

But with the Champion Hurdle picture appearing to be far from vintage at the moment it’s also hard not to suspect there’s a championship waiting to be picked up next season if Samcro really is as good as he’s cracked up to be.

That runs counter to what those dreaming of what a horse with so much class might eventually be able to do over fences.

But O’Leary has already won the Gold Cup twice and never the Champion Hurdle. Plus if Samcro’s ability really is freakish then who’s to say a championship over flights can’t be picked up first. All of which is scarily speculative. But if hype doesn’t do fair it specialises in fantasy.

Dozen starters

And it’s undeniable that Samcro’s Cheltenham form is working out through Black Op, Next Destination and even Vison Des Flos who was back in sixth that day.

If Samcro will have all eyes on him, Debuchet might feel like Custer at the Big Horn in Friday’s other Grade One, the Profile Systems Novice Hurdle.

The grey is the only one of the dozen starters not trained by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. Mullins holds a numerical advantage with six runners although Elliott’s Pallasator is likely to start favourite.

Whether the former high-class but mercurial flat stayer is one to lump on at a short price is debatable but he should strip fresher than his Cheltenham festival winning stable-mate Delta Work, runner-up to Next Destination on Wednesday.

Getabird was struck into when a beaten favourite here the day before and is out again although jockey arrangements suggest Scarpeta could be the stable’s preferred option.

The last time Noel Fehily rode Duc Des Genivevres was when the horse was runner-up to Samcro at the ‘Dublin Racing Festival.’

He subsequently finished behind Scarpeta at Cheltenham and disappointed at Fairyhouse earlier this month. That was his first start outside Grade One company for Mullins but Duc Des Genievres could bounce back from that with Fehily back on board.

Two stalwarts line up for the Champion Hunters Chase with last year’s winner Balnaslow joined by the legendary four-time victor, On The Fringe.

Balnaslow comes here on the back of an Aintree victory but regular jockey Derek O’Connor opts instead for JP McManus’s 2015 Ryanair winner, Uxizandre, whose first run in a year yielded victory in a good point to point earlier this month.

McManus’s Lone Wolf could also be a winning option for O’Connor in the concluding bumper.

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