Samcro unlikely to be a Champion Hurdler

As a massive Samcro fan, from the first day he set foot on a racecourse, I will be surprised should he be good enough to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Samcro unlikely to be a Champion Hurdler

My doubts surfaced after he landed the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at this year’s Cheltenham festival.

I know there were plenty raving about him following the contest and what wasn’t to like, considering he won comfortably by two and three quarter-lengths?

On top of that the form has worked out reasonably well, with Black Op (second) and Next Destination (third) going on to win at Aintree and Punchestown respectively.

To my eyes, however, the performance left plenty to be desired. It was of the workmanlike variety and the wow factor many of us had come to expect, seemed to be missing.

Samcro just didn’t lengthen away, as he had done in his three previous races over flights in Ireland, and the air of invincibility he had leaving this country for the first time wasn’t there anymore.

In fairness the horse’s owner, Michael O’Leary, was at pains one-day, in an interview with Matt Chapman on At The Races, well before Cheltenham, to stress we were all essentially guilty of getting carried away with Samcro.

Said O’Leary: “All this hype is rubbish, he is not the second coming of Jesus Christ.’’

They were prophetic words, particularly in the light of Samcro’s shock defeat by Bedrock on his seasonal debut at Down Royal eight days ago.

The decision to train Samcro for the Champion Hurdle was no great shock and, reading between the lines, and listening to Gordon Elliott, it seems this was always the favoured route for connections.

But beaten a length and a half into second by Bedrock was not a good start, even accepting the winner had a huge fitness edge, as had the disappointing third, Sharjah, who was well backed on the day to turn over Samcro.

Elliott’s charge did little wrong through most of the race, jumping and travelling nicely within himself. But from the second last flight there was no real spark and he was readily outpointed.

Now it is obvious he was a long way removed from being at peak fitness and is entitled to come on a bundle for the outing.

The Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown tomorrow week has been mapped out as next and a much-improved effort can probably be anticipated.

The worry, though, with a Champion Hurdle challenge by this horse is that it is clearly very much ground dependent.

All the evidence tells us he loves a soft or heavy surface and I would not back anything to beat him, over two miles, on such ground.

The odds, however, are against him being facilitated in such a manner at Cheltenham and that is the problem.

Realistically, the only justification for delaying Samcro’s graduation to his true vocation, jumping fences, will be if he wins the Champion Hurdle.

This week he was available for the Champion Hurdle at between 7-2 and 9-2, with one firm offering 5-1. You can make the argument, as many have, that there are practically no top-class hurdlers about, but I still say to the layers thanks, but no thanks.

THE politically correct were out in force on twitter, and elsewhere as well, whingeing about Christophe Soumillon’s use of the whip, after he had ridden Thunder Snow to finish third in the Classic, the final race of the Breeders’ Cup, at Churchill Downs last Saturday night.

Those who claim to be good at counting say he hit the horse 18 times from the turn in, although watching it back I couldn’t quite get to that figure. There is no doubt it was unedifying and he would have been suspended in Europe. But the Americans saw nothing wrong and it was enlightening to read the comments of the legendary Steve Cauthen, as told by Richard Forristal in Monday’s Racing Post.

Cauthen came over from the States to ride in Britain in 1979 and was at this side of the pond throughout the 80s and into the 90s.

He was one of the best jockeys of all time and I have very fond memories of pay days he provided, especially his Epsom Derby successes aboard Slip Anchor (’85) and Reference Point (’87), when beating the bookmaker wasn’t just important, it was a matter of life and death!

Cauthen had a terrific clock in his head and was a magnificent pilot.

He has long returned home and his comments on Soumillon, and the use of the whip in general, made delightful reading for those of us who believe this issue is blown out of all proportion.

This is how Forristal quoted Cauthen: “In my personal opinion, Soumillon is a heck of a good rider-the best rider in France.

“It really doesn’t matter how many times you hit them, as long as you are not hurting them and they’re running for you.

“If they’re not responding, you quit hitting them. You can’t put a number on it. As a guy who rode for 17 years, all this is hogwash.’’

“Forty years ago, when they started talking along such lines in Britain, it made me laugh, it really did. Thoroughbreds are the most pampered animals in the world. They are cared for, fed and loved the best and, for those two minutes they are out there, they’ve got to lay it on the line.

“I don’t agree with all the soft sell these days. I’m not close-minded in trying to improve things, but it is almost impossible to leave a welt with the whips now.’’

What a breath of fresh air from a man who knows what he’s talking about, as brilliant on the ground as he was in the saddle.

AIDAN O’Brien failed to hit the jackpot with multiple runners over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup, but will surely have been greatly encouraged by the displays of two of his inmates in particular, the fillies, So Perfect and Magical.

So Perfect was noted staying on strongly at the end of the five and a half furlongs of a Listed event, finishing third, and, hopefully, will train on over the winter.

It was Magical, however, who was the real star of the show for Ballydoyle, giving the superb Enable a real battle, in a mile and a half Grade 1, before going down by three parts of a length.

The fact it was nine lengths back to the third tells us all we need to know. Magical, a daughter of who else, Galileo, will make some four-year-old.

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