Samcro will be entered for Irish Champion Hurdle
Apple’s Jade to be declared for Cheltenham Stayers’ but Mares Hurdle remains target
Lisa O’Neill and Samcro at Fairyhouse last April. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Michael O’Leary is famed for wrong-footing his opposition and could do it again at next month’s Dublin Racing Festival by pitching his most exciting novice prospect, Samcro, into the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle.
The unbeaten Samcro missed out on last Sunday’s Grade One feature at Naas due to a dirty scope but O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team has indicated he is on track to reappear in the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.
The Grade One €100,000 Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors Hurdle is the straightforward novice option open to him. However Eddie O’Leary, the Ryanair’ chief executive’s brother and bloodstock advisor, confirmed yesterday Samcro will also be entered in the €150,000 opening day festival feature.
“Why wouldn’t he – it will keep you all guessing!” said O’Leary. He added: “Touch wood he’ll go for a piece of work at Leopardstown next Tuesday and then we’re looking at the Dublin Racing Festival. It’ll either be for the two mile, six race (Nathaniel Lacy Hurdle) or the Irish Champion Hurdle.
“He’ll be entered for both. We want to keep our options open. He’s a very nice young horse, with a lot to prove yet. But we’ll let him do the talking rather than us.”
It opens up the tantalising possibility of a clash with Faugheen who could try to repeat his 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle success on February 3rd.
However Faugheen’s shock defeat over Christmas has also cast uncertainty over the likely make up of the field for Ireland’s most prestigious hurdles prize. The O’Leary team appears to feel potential senior opposition could yet be vulnerable.
Star novicesMengli KhanDeloitte
Mengli Khan provided his own moment of drama over Christmas when crashing out through the wing of the second last flight in the Future Champion Novice Hurdle for which he started an evens favourite.
He has emerged unscathed from that and is one of 11 entries left in this Saturday’s Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Hurdle at Punchestown.
Mengli Khan is not certain to line up in that but what appears certain is that any impulse towards applying headgear for his next start will be resisted.
“He will have less headgear rather than more. He was very free on his first two starts so he wore earplugs on his last two starts and fell asleep. We want to wake him back up again,” Eddie O’Leary said.
The Gigginstown spokesman rejected any notion of temperament on Mengli Khan’s part to explain his dramatic Christmas exit.
Instead O’Leary pointed to disruption caused at Leopardstown by the angle of the sun which resulted in the hurdle in the straight being excluded for a number of races.
“They had to keep cutting out the first and last hurdle all the time. And if that low sun is there there’s a heap of shadows down there (at the second last flight) as well. So we assume that is what happened, that the shadow of the wing was across the hurdle.
O’Leary also stressed that Apple’s Jade will try to defend her OLBG Mares Hurdle title at Cheltenham in March although she will also be declared for the Stayers Hurdle two days afterwards.
Gigginstown’s fears that new entry rules might restrict Apple’s Jade to just one festival declaration were ruled out by the British Horseracing Authority yesterday.
“He will be able to declare Apple’s Jade for the mares hurdle and the Stayers hurdle because the six non-novice Grade One races are exempt from the conditions whereby you can only declare for one race at the festival,” said the BHA spokesman, Robin Mounsey.
Eddie O’Leary welcomed that clarification but stressed that Apple’s Jade would only be kept in the Stayers in case “something goes awry in the mares, like she whips around at the start, which is something that can happen.”
Apple’s Jade is in betting lists for both the Stayers and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham but the OLBG remains her target.
Gigginstown had the first three home in the Christmas Chase, lead by Road To Respect and Balko Des Flos, and are likely to target next month’s Unibet Irish Gold Cup in force as well.
“I imagine Road To Respect - unless Noel (Meade) wants to run him - will go straight to Cheltenham. Balko Des Flos is a very good horse but you’re stretching him at three miles and he wants better ground so he’ll go straight for the Ryanair.
“At this stage I’d day Outlander and Valseur Lido will go for the Irish Gold Cup. Disko is in the mix too and Empire Of Dirt, who was second last year, is the forgotten horse. The ground got a bit quick at Christmas so we waited for Tramore. But he slightly strained a shoulder schooling and couldn’t run. But he’s ready to rock and roll again,” O’Leary said.