Bedrock inflicted a surprise defeat on the returning Samcro in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Samcro carried all before him in the novice division last season, winning his first four starts including the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
He fell on his final outing of the campaign in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle and after much deliberation during the summer months, it was confirmed on Monday he would remain over the smaller obstacle this term – rather than pursue a career over fences – with a view to having a tilt at the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned six-year-old was a prohibitively-priced 4-9 favourite for his comeback under Jack Kennedy and all appeared to be going according to plan for much of the two-mile contest.
Samcro got a lead from Galway Hurdle winner Sharjah and Ruby Walsh before moving to the front rounding the home turn, but he did not quicken as anticipated on the run to the final flight and was soon claimed by Iain Jardine’s Scottish raider Bedrock.
The 12-1 shot, who won a Grade Three at Tipperary last month, picked up well on the run-in and was ultimately well on top at the finish in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.
Jardine revealed Bedrock is set to move on to pastures new after being bought by American-based owners earlier this month, but he hopes to persuade them to keep him in Britain for a little longer at least.
He said: “I’m delighted with him and I just think our horse is really improving. We were fourth in the Galway Hurdle and the the Galway Hurdle winner is five lengths back in third today, so we’re turned that form around.
“He won easily at Tipperary last time and didn’t really have a race that day. He’s had a race today, but he’s up against the best of the best.
“He’s been sold to race in America, but I hope he’ll stay here for the time being.
“I’ll have to speak to the new owners, but it would be good to keep him and aim for something like the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and if that went well you’d have to look at the Champion Hurdle.
“We’ll see what happens. It’s a great result today, anyway.”
The result unsurprisingly caused a shake-up to the ante-post betting for the Champion Hurdle, with dual winner Buveur D’Air regaining favouritism from Samcro at 7-4 (from 3-1) with Paddy Power.
The same firm eased Samcro from 11-4 favourite to 9-2 and introduced Bedrock into the market at 25-1.
Elliott admitted to being disappointed by Samcro’s defeat – but hopes he will put up a much-improved performance in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on November 18.
Elliott said: “You are always disappointed when you don’t win. It’s the start of the season and he travelled and looked like he was going to win and he just got a bit tired going to the second-last. He picked up and galloped then to the line.
“If you go through ratings he probably ran about 3lb or 4lb below his best. It’s disappointing he didn’t win but we have to look at the positives – he jumped and he’s home in one piece.
“I know there is more in the horse than today. He gave the winner a good bit of weight. Both the winner and the third horse are race-fit. It’s our first run since we fell at Punchestown and we haven’t been on grass this year.
“What is it they say – ‘we might not have won the battle, but we’ll win the war’. I haven’t lost faith in the horse.
“He’ll go for the Morgiana in Punchestown and with a bit softer ground and faster gallop we might see a different horse.”
Willie Mullins extended his fine record in the Lough Construction Ltd. Irish EBF Mares Novice Hurdle as Sancta Simona ran out a workmanlike winner.
The champion trainer saddled three successive winners of the Grade Three prize between 2014 and 2016 and although his winning run ended last season, he looked to have every chance of adding to his tally on Friday, with even-money favourite Sancta Simona joined by stablemate Dont Hesitate.
Ruby Walsh sent the latter straight to the lead and she was still in contention rounding the home turn.
However, Sancta Simona was travelling powerfully in behind under Barry Geraghty and swept clear on the run to the final flight.
Holding Pattern went in pursuit and briefly threatened to make a real race of it, but Sancta Simona found enough for pressure to prevail by a length and a quarter.
Mullins said: “She was still green, hopefully she will improve. We will just try and keep her to the mares’ programme.
“She’s a fine, big mare and I like her. She’s a mare that we have always had time for. Hopefully she will keep improving.
“She was very keen and was doing a lot of racing all the time and never got a chance to settle. I think once she gets a faster pace she might be better and will maybe jump better as well.”
Asked about the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, Mullins added: “She will still have to improve. She’s well up to the standard of any good novice mares that we have had at this time of the season, so I’m very happy with her progress now.”
Noel Meade’s First Approach (9-10 favourite) was an impressive winner of the opening Eventsec Maiden Hurdle, comfortably accounting for market rival Diamond Turf by 13 lengths under Sean Flanagan.
Meade said: “His jumping was electric and I’d say when he ends up jumping fences that will be his real mark.
“He was quite impressive at the end, so I’m thrilled.”
Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud gained some compensation for the defeat of Samcro as another Cheltenham Festival hero Delta Work (4-9 favourite) made a successful debut over fences in the Porter & Co. Beginners Chase.
The Pertemps Final victor was untidy at the final fence, but came home well to beat Niven by three-quarters of a length.
Elliott said: “I thought he threw it away at the last, he jumped well other than that. We got away with it so we are happy.
“He battled well, he’s a tough horse and a good horse. We can build on that and see where we go.”
Arthur Moore and Paul Townend combined to land the Allianz Handicap Hurdle with 9-2 chance Brosna George – a race in which Samcro’s rider Jack Kennedy picked up a 10-day suspension for his use of the whip on runner-up Sir Ector.
Conor Orr steered Francis Casey’s Eight Till Late (8-1) to a clear-cut win in the Toals Bookmakers Handicap Chase, while the Sky Sports Racing Launching In 2019 Flat Race brought the afternoon to a close and victory went to the Ted Walsh-trained Batcio (9-2), ridden by Aubrey McMahon.