Gordon Elliott is confident Samcro can continue his resurgence in the Baroneracing.com Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on Sunday.
The seven-year-old looked a superstar in the making as a bumper horse and novice hurdler, but fell in the 2018 Punchestown Champion Hurdle and the plug was pulled on last season before the new year after three underwhelming performances.
However, the son of Germany looked much more like his old self when making a winning return to action on his fencing bow at Down Royal a month ago – and Elliott feels a change of stable has helped his charge find a new lease of life.
“I was very happy with what he did first time out,” said the Cullentra handler.
“He’s scoping clean this year, I couldn’t get him to scope right last year but this year he is so we’re happy.
“Samcro has been moved to a new stable we’ve had built for him where he can walk outside if he wants. It just means that he can have fresh air the whole time, which after the problems of last year is a good thing. If he wants he can go into a woodchip paddock
“He was bred to be – and bought to be – a chaser and in hindsight it was probably not the wisest thing to try to turn him into a Champion Hurdle horse last season.
“But the way the year worked out with the weather it could have been a blessing in disguise, as the ground was so quick.”
Samcro is a short-priced favourite to see off five rivals in a Grade One contest Elliott has landed five times in the last nine years, with subsequent Gold Cup hero Don Cossack (2013) joined on the roll of honour by the likes of Death Duty (2017) and Delta Work (2018).
However, he might not have things all his own way, with Willie Mullins confident last season’s Irish Grand National hero Burrows Saint can at least give him a run for his money.
It is unusual for the winner of such a prestigious handicap to be qualified to run against those with less experience the following season, but the champion trainer has spotted an enticing opportunity to give his charge a run before his novice status expires.
“He has a nice rating, albeit gained over a mile further. I think with the testing conditions, he has a chance,” said Mullins
“He certainly will have the experience of jumping fences and around this track.
“He jumps and stays and he’s in against novices. There’s very few novices that already have an Irish Grand National in the bag, so that gives him a huge chance.
“It’s good prize-money, so we’ll take our chance.”
Mullins also runs Chef Des Obeaux, who will make his debut for the yard after being moved from Nicky Henderson, while Elliott has a second string to his bow in Tintangle.
The field is completed by the Ronald Pump – supplemented by Matthew Smith following an impressive chasing debut at Fairyhouse – and Joseph O’Brien’s four-year-old Fakir D’oudairies.
Elliott appears to hold a very strong hand in the baroneracing.com Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, with last season’s Champion Bumper hero Envoi Allen joined by high-class stablemate Abacadabras.
Envoi Allen made a foot-perfect start to his hurdling career at Down Royal, while Abacadabras has had no trouble in winning his first two starts over flights.
“Envoi looks good. Abacadabras is a speedy type, whereas I can see Envoi Allen stepping out in trip before the season is out,” said Elliott.
“Envoi is the type of horse who will carry on improving with every run he has.
“We’ve got some nice you novice hurdlers this season and they are what you need, as they are the future.”
Envoi Allen is owned by Cheveley Park Stud, whose silks before last season were better known on the Flat circuit, but two winners at the Cheltenham Festival has given them a real taste for more.
Chris Richardson, managing director of the stud, said: “He looked very good first time over hurdles. His preparation has gone well according to Gordon, but he is stepping up in class, so this will be a proper test.
“He’s a potentially exciting individual to have and we’re hoping for a big campaign this year.”
Abacadabras is one of three runners for Gigginstown House Stud along with the O’Brien-trained duo of Embittered and Midnight Run.
Mullins is also doubly represented by Fast Buck and the exciting Foveros – a winner of three of his four starts over timber.
Soviet Pimpernel (Peter Fahey), Darver Star (Gavin Cromwell) and Turnpike Trip (Charles Byrnes) complete the line-up.