Samcro’s connections are prepared to give him another crack at the best two-milers in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
For many, Saturday’s Grade One will be one of the highlights of the busy Christmas period – if only for the number of questions it should answer.
Gordon Elliott’s Samcro was seen as Ireland’s big hope to topple Buveur D’Air this season, after carrying all before him as a novice – but it has not gone to plan.
Beaten on his reappearance at Down Royal by Bedrock, who is back again, he was then put firmly in his place by the champion in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
He is one of three runners for Gigginstown House Stud – with stablemate Tombstone and Henry de Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir also lining up.
“We’ll give two miles another shot, and we’ve got Tombstone in there to make it a true-run race,” said Gigginstown’s racing manager Eddie O’Leary.
“I think as long as it is a decent pace he’ll be happy, and that is the same for them all really.
“This is a very good horse race – there are some quality two-mile hurdlers in it, and it will take some winning.
“It is a long way from being Samcro’s race. It will take plenty of winning.”
Petit Mouchoir spent much of last season chasing Footpad over fences, but returns to hurdles after a problem.
“He’s starting back over hurdles, because he just had a little setback,” said O’Leary.
“Hopefully he’ll run a nice race, but he needs the run badly.”
Quite rightly Iain Jardine is feeling confident about Bedrock confirming the form from Down Royal.
He and Samcro were scheduled to meet again at Newcastle, but a minor setback prevented Bedrock from running, and this race was then chosen over the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
Jardine said: “One of the key reasons we’ve chosen to go over there rather that Kempton was Rachael (Blackmore) could stay on him.
“I’d hope he’s got a good each-way chance. We’ve been trying to select the right race, and I know it’s hot – but we’ll have a go. He’s a decent enough horse, so deserves his chance.
“Samcro might have improved between Down Royal and Newcastle, but Sharjah was back in third and he was fully fit. You can’t knock the form.
“He’s in good order; the ground is good, which he likes, so fingers crossed he’ll go well.”
Arguably the best form on offer is Melon’s Champion Hurdle second to Buveur D’Air, but he is making his seasonal reappearance for Willie Mullins.
“Melon was going to run in the Morgiana but he wasn’t sparkling in his work – so once we missed that, we said we’d come straight here,” said assistant trainer Patrick Mullins.
“He’s in good form at home, working much better now, and it will be interesting against Samcro, Supasundae – and you can’t discount Bedrock – but his run against Buveur D’Air is probably the best bit of form on show.”
The younger Mullins will be hoping Melon comes second, however, because he rides stablemate Sharjah – who beat former champion hurdler Faugheen last time out.
Mullins went on: “It’s fantastic to get my leg back over Sharjah. Obviously his win at Punchestown the last day was a career-best, but it still leaves him with only one rated lower in this – so he’ll have to step up again.
“It’s a red-hot race – but he was going to run very well last year at this meeting when he fell at the last, so I’m delighted to get back on him.”