Samcro made a foot-perfect start to his career over fences on a Down Royal card dominated by his trainer Gordon Elliott.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned seven-year-old was considered one of the budding superstars of the sport after a novice hurdle season which included victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.
However, defeat in the WKD Hurdle at this fixture 12 months ago set the tone for an underwhelming campaign, which ended not long after Christmas when he was diagnosed with a deep-seated lung infection.
Despite his lengthy absence, Samcro was a 1-3 favourite for the Advanced NI Scaffolding Beginners Chase – and his supporters will have had few moments of concern for the duration of the near two-and-a-half-mile contest.
With Keith Donoghue partnering him for the first time competitively, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding fenced fluently and took over the lead from Play The Part racing down the back straight.
The result was never really in doubt from that point onwards, with Samcro safely negotiating the remaining obstacles and quickening up smartly on the run-in to beat Trappist Monk by 17 lengths.
Elliott – saddling his fourth winner of the afternoon – said: “There is (relief) to be honest as we had a long, hard year with him last year. We have changed a few things with him and he is scoping very good.
“I couldn’t have been happier with what he did there. Keith said he only just popped the last three as he wanted to get him round. He said when he gave him a squeeze after the last he picked up and he was gone for those few strides.
“He couldn’t have done any more than he did, it was brilliant.”
Now clear favourite for the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in March, the Cullentra handler confirmed the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on December 1 as Samcro’s intended next target.
He added: “We have some nice novice chasers – a few of them will be taking each other on in the Drinmore. The plan is that he (Samcro) will go straight for the Drinmore.
“Battleoverdoyen could be more of a three-miler and so could Champagne Classic, so we will see what happens.
“I thought it was a good performance. In fairness to Keith it was a big-pressure ride for him and he is a good sub to have (with Jack Kennedy injured).”
Last season’s Triumph Hurdle runner-up Coeur Sublime made a hugely impressive start to his campaign with a bloodless victory in the WKD Hurdle under Davy Russell.
The 7-4 favourite cruised to a 15-length success over stablemate Coko Beach, prompting bookmakers to cut him to a best-priced 25-1 for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Elliott said: “He was second in a Triumph Hurdle, so he was entitled to do that.
“Davy said he is a different horse this year – he looked a different horse, he’s a lot stronger. He jumped and he did everything right.
“We will have plenty of fun with him this year. He would have to improve again to be a Champion Hurdle horse, but there are a lot of Grade Twos and Grade Threes to be won.”
Elliott’s 1-3 favourite Daylight Katie did well to land the Grade Three Lough Construction Ltd. Irish EBF Mares Novice Hurdle for Russell after a bad mistake three flights from home, while 8-11 shot Fury Road oozed class in the opening CBRE Property Experts Maiden Hurdle in the hands of Donoghue.
“We thought Fury Road was a machine in his bumpers, but we had to give him an operation. He could go for a three-miler over Christmas and could drop back to two and a half,” said Elliott.
“We got a bit of a fright with Daylight Katie, but she was brave to come back and win after what she did.
“She’ll go for all those mares’ races now.”