Samcro could make return to action at Down Royal

Eddie O’Leary says plans are ground dependent as uncertainty over future of track continues

Jack Kennedy and Samcro after victory in the 2018 Ballymore at Cheltenham. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Jack Kennedy and Samcro after victory in the 2018 Ballymore at Cheltenham. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

A final decision on whether Samcro goes chasing or stays over hurdles this season has yet to be made and a call on whether or not he returns at Down Royal later this week is also in the balance.

The unbeaten star has been pencilled in to make his eagerly awaited first start of the season at Down Royal’s JNwine Champion Chase festival which starts on Friday.

On that day the Grade Two WKD Hurdle is open to the Michael O’Leary owned horse should the Ryanair boss’s Gigginstown Stud team decide to target the Champion Hurdle this season.

Alternatively on Friday there is a Beginners Chase over almost two and a half miles that could see the former point to point winner begin a novice career over fences.

“I will be meeting Gordon (Elliott) at Newmarket this week and we will decide then what we’re doing,” said the Gigginstown spokesman Eddie O’Leary on Sunday.

“I just hope there is ground good enough to run him somewhere. The plan has been to run at Down Royal and I hope the ground will be safe enough. But if it isn’t he won’t be going at all,” O’Leary added.

Ground conditions at Down Royal are currently described as good ahead of its biggest meeting of the year which takes place against a background of uncertainty about the track’s future.

Earlier this month the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders which manages the racecourse said they were preparing for the track to close after a breakdown in negotiations with the Merrion Property Group who own it.

The DRCHB’s lease runs out on January 1st but the Merrion Group has been adamant it intends to maintain racing at the track next year with the first of a dozen dates set for January 29th.

After a meeting between the Merrion Group boss Michael Roden and Horse Racing Ireland officials last week, HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said he is confident racing will continue at Down Royal next year.

Kavanagh said on Sunday that various details in any transition process have to be worked out and said he is “hopeful” a deal in relation to fixtures and fittings at the racecourse can be reached between Merrion and DRCHB.

It is understood a valuation of close on €300,000 has been put on fixtures and fittings at Down Royal. That includes fences, running rails, machinery, kitchen equipment and all moveable objects. However no agreement has so far been reached between the groups on its possible purchase.

Kavanagh wouldn’t comment on specific figures on Sunday but pointed to last week’s meeting with the Merrion Group and said: “We discussed the various issues needed for transition, one of which is the transfer of fixtures of fittings. There are discussions under way between the two parties on that and I’d be hopeful of a good outcome.”

Saturday will be the final JNwine Champion Chase run under the current management. It’s final fixture of all will be on St Stephen’s Day. General Manager Mike Todd said on Sunday it won’t be a bittersweet moment this weekend because he is concentrating on the event itself.

“All the emotion is gone out of it. We’ve had nine months of emotion. This is the last festival I’ll be involved in and it looks like being brilliant so we just want to make sure it all goes good,” he said.

“The track is in brilliant nick at the moment. It’s good ground. With the bit of rain we had on Friday it might be on the easier side in places. Ground won’t be a problem,” Todd added.

The Gigginstown Stud team are chasing a remarkable six-in-a-row in Saturday’s Grade One feature and the Ryanair Chase winner Balko Des Flos is a general 6-4 favourite to maintain that run of success.

Seven of the 13 entries left in the JNwine Champion Chase are owned by O’Leary and they include both last year’s winner Outlander and the Cheltenham festival heroine Shattered Love.

“Plans are dependent on ground. There’s plenty we’d love to run but they need suitable ground,” said Eddie O’Leary who described recent events at Down Royal as unfortunate but added it is very important racing continues there.

“There’s obviously been a row of some sort and I hope they can sort it out. Mike Todd is a fantastic manager and they run a great ship. Jim Nicholson (chairman) does a great job and it’s very well managed,” he said.

“Obviously been a fallout with the owners and it’s up to them to manage that. If they’re that good managers they can manage that,” O’Leary added.

In flat news Magna Grecia has been backed into 14-1 with some firms for next year’s 2,000 Guineas after his Group One success on Saturday in Doncaster’s Vetrem Futurity.

His trainer Aidan O’Brien was out of luck on Sunday when Hermosa had to settle for second in the Criterium International at Chantilly behind Godolphin’s Royal Meeting.

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