Netizen 24 GBR: Samcro aiming for bigger Cheltenham prizes after living up to Festival hype

By On March 14, 2018

Samcro aiming for bigger Cheltenham prizes after living up to Festival hype

Cheltenham Festival 2018 Samcro aiming for bigger Cheltenham prizes after living up to Festival hype

• Brilliant winner could have 2020 Gold Cup in his sights
• Michael O’Leary starts to believe after Ballymore victory

Jack Kennedy celebrates riding Samcro to win the Ballymore Novices Hurdle.
Jack Kennedy celebrates riding Samcro to win the Ballymore Novices Hurdle. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

Samcro is not the second coming of Jesus Christ, we have been assured by his owner, but, for many punters here, he will do until Jesus Christ comes along. This place has welcomed ma ny a hyped novice hurdler from Ireland over the years and a fair number of them were sent home without the trophy but Samcro’s reputation proved entirely justified in the opening race. “He’s performed his first miracle,” declared one particularly gleeful fan, after the Ballymore Hurdle.

Jack Kennedy, his 18-year-old jockey who was himself praised to the skies from a very early stage, does not do nerves but few of those in the crowd are so blessed. There were rumblings of discontent as Samcro dived over an early hurdle, then seemed to trip over a road crossing.

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Memories were doubtless stirring of Getabird, the Irish-trained favourite who had completely blown out on Tuesday. Samcro was stuck on the outside of the pack, with no horse directly in front to give him cover, at risk of burning himself up far too early.

If there was anyone less bothered about that than Kennedy , it was Samcro, who loped along with his lazy, fluid stride and floated up to join the leaders shortly before the home turn. So began the call-and-response between commentator and crowd that makes Cheltenham such a joy when the ‘banker’ bets prove well chosen.

“Samcro making a promising move,” noted Simon Holt and the horse’s backers were suddenly everywhere, shouting him home. “Samcro coming there very strongly indeed,” Holt continued and the stands became one open throat with a single purpose, bellowing for the Irish good thing and for the bookies to take another beating.

“The hype is never justified,” said Michael O’Leary, the owner who has repeatedly tried to dampen down expectations for the six-year-old. He may as well have been talking to himself. “To be fair, he did that very well.”

O’Leary blamed the bookmakers for said hype, which rather seemed like kicking an industry when it’s down. “They’re always trying to suck peopl e into the ante-post market. He didn’t justify the kind of hype that was going on when he ran at Christmas. There was far too much talk early in the season.”

This victory was a relief, not just to those who had expressed their faith in pounds or euros, but to the winning trainer, Gordon Elliott. The rising force in Irish jumps racing, he had endured a torrid opening day, with two beaten favourites and the loss to a fatal injury of a talented young animal, Mossback.

“In this game, you have to get up every morning and start fresh again,” Elliott said. “We had a rough day yesterday. And horses like this, there’s a lot of hype, a lot of pressure. But we can enjoy it now.”

Were Elliott given free rein, one senses he’d be inclined to keep Samcro to the smaller obstacles and aim at the Champion Hurdle next year. But O’Leary and his brother, Eddie, make the decisions about their horses and any such plan seems far from their thoughts. Steeplechasing is their game. “Oh, geez, he’s a chaser,” Eddie said. “They’re all chasers. If it’s hurdles, with us, it’s on the way.”

The formal line from Michael O’Leary is that the whole team will have a discussion after Samcro dances round Punchestown next month, a home game in front of adoring fans for which he will be unbackably short. There seems little room for doubt that he’ll be a novice chaser next winter, with the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup as his long-term target.

“The only downside of winning a race in Cheltenham is that everybody wants to plan the future instead of enjoying just this perfect moment,” said the owner, as wise a thought as he has uttered at the racecourse. In the next breath, O’Leary the provocateur was back in charge, alluding to Samcro’s chestnut colour. “He’s beautiful. I don’t like redheads generally but I’d make an exception in his case. He’s my favourite ginger.”

  • Cheltenham Festival 2018
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  • Michael O'Leary
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Source: Google News

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