Superstar novice Samcro takes on the big boys in a mouthwatering renewal of the BETDAQ 2% Commission Punchestown Champion Hurdle on Friday.
The six-year-old has been earmarked as an outstanding talent ever since winning his point-to-point two years ago, a performance which prompted Gordon Elliott to go to £335,000 to secure his services on behalf of Gigginstown House Stud.
Gigginstown and Ryanair supremo Michael O’Leary’s continued efforts to dampen the hype have largely fallen on deaf ears as he has continued to rack up the wins.
And two stunning performance at Grade One level since the turn of the year – the latest in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – have taken his already huge reputation to another level.
Elliott said: “Samcro is in good order. We were obviously delighted with his performance at Cheltenham and he’s a horse that I feel very lucky to have.”
Samcro had the option of remaining in novice company this week, but instead steps up to take on, among others, the Willie Mullins-trained Melon, who was narrowly beaten by Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “For my money Samcro is going to be hard to beat.
“He’s obviously a novice stepping out into open company, but it’s the end of the season and we have won it with a novice before in Davenport Milenium (2002).
“Melon ran a fabulous race in Cheltenham and has come out of the race very well. I’m not sure how strong the Champion Hurdle form was this year, but he should make Samcro work.”
Mullins has also declared last year’s winner Wicklow Brave, Bleu Berry, Coquin Mans and Min, who finished fourth in Tuesday’s Champion Chase.
The champion trainer’s son enjoyed one of the biggest days of his riding career when steering Wicklow Brave to a surprise victory 12 months ago and is on board once again.
He added: “Wicklow Brave disappointed me a little bit in Cheltenham, but he actually ran a very similar race there last year before he came and won at Punchestown.
“I’m hoping he’ll run a big race again.”
Mullins junior added: “Min seems to have come out of his run on Tuesday in good form. I schooled him over hurdles this (Thursday) morning and he seemed to take to it well. A final decision will be made in the morning, but at this stage he’s an intended runner.
“Coquin Mans is a rapidly-improving horse who was impressive at Fairyhouse last time. Two miles might be a bit on short side for him but his rating entitles him to take his chance and pick up some prize-money.
“Bleu Berry won the Coral Cup in Cheltenham. He was a bit disappointing behind Coquin Mans in Fairyhouse, but maybe he got stuck in the very heavy ground and again there’s some good prize-money on offer for him to aim for.”
Jessica Harrington’s Irish Champion Hurdle hero Supasundae comes back in distance after finishing second in both the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Aintree Hurdle.
Elliott’s second string The Game Changer completes the line-up.