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Samcro – Where did it all go wrong?

Jonathan Vine 5 Dec 2018
Jack Kennedy riding Samcro wins The Ballymore Novices Hurdle Race at Cheltenham.

We take a look back at Saturday’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and assesses where it all went wrong for beaten favourite Samcro.

Once lauded like our lord and saviour had been placed amongst us once again, Samcro’s reputation has taken a pounding during the early stages of the new season. The critics were out in force after Bedrock lowered the Ballymore winners’ colours on his reappearance in the WKD Hurdle, but many were predicting the real Samcro would stand up in the seismic clash with Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth and the Irish raider was backed into favouritism before the off.

With Buveur D’Air’s hurdling ability on another level to everyone over two miles, the best chance Samcro had was to turn the Fighting Fifth into a test of stamina. It was no surprise when Jack Kennedy took his mount straight to the front, yet – instead of setting some sharp fractions during the early stages of the race – the pace Samcro cut out could best be described as pedestrian.

As Summerville Boy and Vision Des Flos began to flounder, Kennedy asked Samcro to put the race to bed entering the home straight. All eyes, however, were drawn to Buveur D’Air, as Barry Geraghty’s mount pulled effortlessly alongside Samcro on the approach to the last.

For the first time in the contest, Samcro produced the better jump, as Buveur D’Air clattered through the final flight. Despite that uncharacteristic error, it was not enough to deny Nicky Henderson’s charge victory. Buveur D’Air powered to a comfortable victory, leaving Samcro floundering eight lengths in his wake.

Gordon Elliott was magnanimous in defeat, admitting his stable star had simply been beaten by a better horse. Yet, he and the think-tank at Gigginstown must be regretting the decision to go off so slowly – Buveur D’Air finished the race quickly, but the overall time of the race was almost a second slower than the time Irving clocked when winning the race on similar ground two years ago.
Another decision Elliott and the team must be having second thoughts about is the choice to leave Samcro over hurdles. After this latest set-back, everyone has been left wondering – what next for Samcro?

The worst thing that happened to Samcro was falling in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle. If the Ballymore had stayed on his feet and won, then no-one would be questioning the choice to aim for the Champion Hurdle. If Samcro had stood up and been beaten by Supasundae, then he would have started the season in the novice chasing ranks.

It’s clearly evident that Samcro doesn’t have the pace to stay with the best over the minimum distance. His jumping is simply not slick enough. The Stayers’ Hurdle is a genuine option and, with Willie Mullins playing such a strong hand, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Elliott reroute Samcro in that direction.

BetVictor seem to have decided it will be the Stayers' Hurdle for Samcro, listing him as an 8/1 shot for the three-miler and a 9/1 chance in the Champion Hurdle. Yet, I feel there were some positives to be taken from Saturday’s display and things could be a little different come the Cheltenham Festival.

Newcastle is a track for the speedsters – flat with fairly easy obstacles. Yes, Samcro was convincingly beaten, but he still crossed the line a long way clear of Vision Des Flos and Summerville Boy, both very capable hurdlers, so there’s no doubting Gordon Elliott’s charge has improved in-between runs.

The uphill finish to the two-mile track at Cheltenham really suited Samcro in the Ballymore. If we get similar ground conditions to what we had last year, I’d be surprised if the gap between Samcro and Buveur D’Air was as wide as eight lengths come the Festival.

If I had to back one of them in the Champion Hurdle, it would be Buveur D’Air. Infact, I tipped up Buveur D’Air in the race as soon as Samcro entered the reckoning. I’m just saying that the Champion Hurdle is not a completely unattainable goal for Samcro – I’d just like to see him stepped up in trip before dropping back at the Cheltenham Festival.

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Samcro – Where did it all go wrong?

We take a look back at Saturday’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and assesses where it all went wrong for beaten favourite Samcro.

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