Samcro still O’Leary’s big hope for the Champion Hurdle
Mares Hurdle remains the main target for Apple’s Jade
Samcro (left) is well beaten by Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team is not for changing course with its Champion Hurdle plans, and Samcro remains the Ryanair boss’s big hope of a first success in the Cheltenham highlight this March.
After two defeats this season, including being comprehensively beaten by the reigning champion Buveur D’Air in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle over a week ago, a possible switch to fences for the former point-to-point winner has been urged in some quarters.
Such calls only seemed to increase after Gigginstown’s star mare Apple’s Jade routed her Hatton’s Grace opposition to the tune of 20 lengths a day after the Fighting Fifth at Fairyhouse.
The entry of both horses in Ascot’s upcoming Grade One JLT Hurdle over three miles just before Christmas added to speculation about likely running plans for the rest of the season.
However, Gigginstown spokesman Eddie O’Leary emphasised on Monday that Smacro’s ultimate target this season remains the Champion Hurdle, and Apple’s Jade will traverse the distance on route to the OLBG Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham.
I would imagine the only difference this time would be that after Christmas we will give her a crack at the Irish Champion
“Samcro’s next race, all going well, will be the two-miler at Leopardstown over Christmas [Ryanair Hurdle]. I think we saw a sensational horse in Buveur D’Air the last day. That’s the best I’ve ever seen Buveru D’air, and we’ve a long way to go to try and beat him. But we’ll give it a go.”
O’Leary described JLT Hurdle entries for both Samcro and Apple’s Jade as speculative, and not a serious option. He also dismissed speculation about the eight-time Grade One winning mare replacing Samcro in Gigginstown’s Champion Hurdle calculations.
“Have you heard us talking about it? All being well, the next time you see her will be in the three-miler [Squared Financial Hurdle] at Leopardstown that she won last year.
“After she won that race last year she went straight to Cheltenham, which was probably a mistake. But then again she was mad in season at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
“I would imagine the only difference this time would be that after Christmas we will give her a crack at the Irish Champion at two miles as well to keep her busy, and then on to the Mares Hurdle at two and a half,” said O’Leary.
The prospect of Apple’s Jade taking her chance in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the “Dublin Racing Festival” is unlikely to eliminate talk of perhaps an ultimate attempt to go for the championship itself at Cheltenham.
It is because unfortunately the English handicapper will stick a heap of weight on him. He’s only a small horse
However, O’Leary stressed: “People can read into it what they want. It will be just to keep her busy because she’s better off busy. All going well, her main target is the Mares Hurdle.
“We have no problem coming out of mares’ races. But as someone said recently, she has only taken on mares-only races four times and been beaten twice.”
Another of Gigginstown’s major stars is the Grand National hero Tiger Roll, and he will return to action on Friday in Cheltenham’s Cross Country Race, a day before the International Hurdle day programme.
Tiger Roll won a third Cheltenham festival race last March in the Cross Country event, less than a month before his famous Aintree victory. His trainer Gordon Elliott has already said a repeat Cross-Country success is more of a priority than trying to repeat the National heroics.
“It is because unfortunately the English handicapper will stick a heap of weight on him. He’s only a small horse, so you’d have to say he has no chance in the Grand National because he’ll be handicapped out of it,” O’Leary said.
Tiger Roll was Gigginstown’s second Aintree National winners in three years following Rule The World in 2016. They have also won three of the last four renewals of the Irish National, in addition to a first win in the race with Hear The Echo a decade ago.
A new “National” objective could be the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow just after Christmas. The trio of Rogue Angel, Monbeg Notorious and Douikos are among the long-range entries for the three and three-quarter marathon won last season by Gavin Cromwell’s Raz De Maree.
The only other Irish-trained winner of the Welsh National was Jim Dreaper’s Notre Pere a decade ago, and Eddie O’Leary hasn’t ruled out a tilt at the race.
“We’ve never had a runner in the race but they are possibles. I’ll have to discuss it with Gordon. As Aidan [O’Brien] says, they’ll be definite possibilities!”
Elliott’s Welsh National options could also include the ex-Gigginstown owned Folsom Blue who is as low as 12-1 in some ante-post betting lists.
Folsom Blue was an unlucky fourth to General Principle in last Easter’s Irish National, and filled the same place in his sole start of the current campaign over hurdles at Haydock last month.