Last season turned out to be a total write-off for Samcro, the horse hailed as the new superstar of National Hunt racing, so the big question is whether the Cheltenham Festival winner can get his career back on the up when sent chasing in the 2019/20 campaign.
This seven-year-old gelding won his sole start in an Irish point at Monksgrange in good style before being purchased by Gigginstown House Stud and sent to join trainer Gordon Elliott.
He then impressed when making a winning debut for his new handler in a bumper at Punchestown, racing sweetly on the heels of the leaders before stretching clear inside the final furlong to win easily by 14 lengths.
Samcro then made all to follow-up in a four-runner Listed bumper at Navan where he stayed on strongly to beat Good Thyne Tara, by 1/2 a length.
He was then given a 120 day break before landing the hat-trick in a bumper at Fairyhouse.
Samcro again travelled ominously well before pulling clear two from home to register a facile 17 length success over Cluan Dara.
Fine First Season Hurdling
Those performances marked him out as something special and Samcro duly sluiced up by 15 lengths on debut over hurdles in a 22-runner 2m contest back in October 2017.
Samcro was then stepped up to 2m 4f and landed a Grade 3 at Navan in sensational style when beating beat Jetz hard-held by 12 lengths.
He then took the step up into Grade 1 company in his stride when running out an easy 5 1/2 lengths winner of the Deloitte Novice Hurdle during the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival in February.
That victory saw Samcro sent off the 8/11 favourite for the 2m 5f Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival a month later and he only needed driving out up the run-in for a comfortable 2 3/4 lengths success over Black Op.
Samcro then took on his elders for the first time in the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle, but came to grief three from home when closing and yet to be asked a serious question.
Champion Hurdle Campaign Backfires
Connections then had a decision to make – stick to hurdling or send Samcro chasing in 2018/19.
As Gigginstown have yet to win a Champion Hurdle they plumped for the former and Samcro was right at the head of the ante post betting for the feature contest on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
However, Samcro failed to shine when dropped back in class on return to action at Down Royal where he never travelled with his usual fluency and found little for pressure when a 1 1/2 lengths runner-up to Bedrock in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle.
It was bitterly disappointing effort and he then got firmly pit in his place when trounced eight length by Buveur D’air in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
Samcro then bombed out when a well beaten fourth in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over the Christmas period and after a number of niggling injuries Elliott decided to call it a day for the season and put him away.
Built to Be a Chaser
That could well be a wide decision as Samcro was clearly not himself and his confidence appeared to be shots to bits.
He now needs to bounce back and going chasing in 2019/20 could well see him do just that as connections always maintained that was where his future lay.
At just seven years of age it would be foolish to right Samcro off and I think it’s best to put in line through last season’s exploits as something was clearly amiss.
He is undoubtedly a horse of huge talent who has a high cruising speed and smart turn of foot and is a strapping sort who built to come into his own over the larger obstacles.
JLT Looks a Good Target
Samcro was also campaigned over 2m last season – a trip which is not ideal for him as he is a stayer rather than a speed type.
For me, it would therefore be foolish to make the 2m Arkle Chase, for which he is a general 16/1 in the ante post betting, the target for Samcro at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival if all goes to plan.
A far better option would be the JlT Novices’ Chase over 2m 4f for which he is currently 16/1 with bet365 or the RSA Chase over 3m for which he can be backed at 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
If he were mine, then the JLT would be the choice of race and I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him at the current odds on offer. Let’s just hope that we see the real Samcro in 2019/20 as the game needs stars he has still has the potential to be one.