Samcro is set to make his seasonal reappearance in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal on Friday after trainer Gordon Elliott confirmed his stable star will remain over the smaller obstacles this season.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned six-year-old has won a point-to-point, three bumpers and was unbeaten in his first four starts over hurdles last season – including victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
He fell on his final outing of the campaign in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, and connections have taken their time in deciding whether to aim at the Champion Hurdle this term or pursue a career over fences.
“He’s in great form, and the plan is for him to start off in the Grade 2 WKD at Down Royal on Friday,” Elliott told Betfair.
“I’ve spoken to (owners) Michael and Eddie O’Leary, and we’ve decided to keep him over hurdles this season in the hope that he can develop into a Champion Hurdle contender.
“I’ve never had a Champion Hurdle horse before, and Gigginstown have yet to win it, and we thought that it was worth giving Samcro a shot at that race.
“He started off in point-to-points – and when we bought him at Aintree, he was bought as a future chaser, and hopefully we will see him over fences in the future. As far as this season is concerned, though, he will be staying over hurdles – and we are going to try and follow a path towards the Champion Hurdle.
“I’m under no illusions about the challenge that he faces. But he was a top-class novice hurdler last season, and the race he won at Cheltenham has produced a number of previous champion hurdlers in Faugheen, Hardy Eustace and Istabraq. Samcro has a long way to go to be mentioned in the same breath as them, but he’s done absolutely everything that we have asked of him so far, and I’m hoping that there’s more to come
“We’ll get Friday out of the way first and we’ll just take things race by race, but he’ll follow a traditional sort of path to Cheltenham.”
Samcro is the 3-1 joint-favourite for the Champion Hurdle with several bookmakers along with the Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air, who has claimed the two-mile hurdling crown in each of the last two seasons.
Samcro is one of 10 entries for the Grade Two and could be joined by stablemates Dortmund Park and Roaring Bull.
Willie Mullins has entered Shanning, Galway Hurdle winner Sharjah, smart Flat performer Stratum and Whiskey Sour.
Schmidt, Trainwreck and Iain Jardine’s Bedrock complete the list.