“He’s not the next coming of Jesus Christ,” Michael O’Leary had to say about Samcro at the Dublin Racing Festival in 2018, a month before his victory in the Ballymore which confirmed him as one of the most exciting prospects in the sport.
His second season over hurdles was fruitless, surely in part due to the physical problems which saw him miss the latter half of the campaign, though personally, I retained faith in Gordon Elliott’s star given that the way he travelled through his races and backed him for this in pre-season at 8-1.
I couldn’t have been happier with his chasing debut at Down Royal, jumping well and tanking all over an inferior field, and there were positives to take from his run in the Drinmore, despite unshipping Jack Kennedy two out.
His defeat at the hands of Faugheen in the Greenmount on Boxing Day certainly provided more questions than answers though, and I don’t consider it a market overreaction that Samcro is now available to back at prices as big as 12-1, though O’Leary’s latest quote about the possibility of Samcro now going handicapping could well be considered an overreaction in the other direction as well.
The major worry regarding Samcro must be based around how tamely he folded at Limerick; it was massively reminiscent of his effort in the Istabraq Hurdle last Christmas, after which an issue was found that sidelined him for the rest of the season, and there’s now got to be a query as to whether Samcro has an underlying issue of some sort that stops him seeing out his races.
“The Machine” was promoted to favouritism for this off the back of that Limerick victory-an astonishing eleventh career Grade 1- and he would surely be the most popular winner of the whole Festival if he was able to raise the roof once more at Prestbury Park.
That race is probably the most relevant piece of form regarding the Marsh that we’ve seen so far this season, and it saw a much improved round of jumping from Faugheen, whose victory on chase debut was certainly despite his jumping rather than because of it.
It’s worth remembering that, even forgetting Faugheen as the extraordinary Champion Hurdler of his youth, he was still placed in a Grade 1 championship race at last season’s Festival, and his win in the 2018 Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown was the strongest race of the division ran in that year.
All of the ability looked to remain intact, and it was especially pleasing to see how well he was able to quicken between the last two fences, entirely in the manner of a horse who still possesses the full range of gears needed to operate at the highest level over this trip.
Statistics say that twelve year old’s don’t win Grade 1s at Cheltenham, but Faugheen is a far cry from the average twelve year old and at this stage, I’d say he merits his place at the head of the betting.
Drinmore winner Fakir D’Oudairies is still shorter in the betting for the Arkle than for this, despite his defeat at Leopardstown over Christmas, though the same can’t be said for Laurina, whose effort on Boxing Day illustrated that she looks well more suited to this rather than the two-mile race on Tuesday.
I wouldn’t take her pulled up performance in the Racing Post Novice Chase as being her true running- her eight length defeat of Minella Indo prior to that surely providing a better reflection of her true ability.
She was mightily impressive that day, and much of whether still you’d consider a leading Festival contender would be based around how willing you would be to forgive her rather sluggish effort last time out.
Willie Mullins’ mare was found to have bled post-race, so an obvious excuse can be provided and even without acknowledging that the step back down to two-miles was probably a hindrance rather than a help for a horse with a fair amount of stamina.
That being said, it’s hard to have full faith in a horse coming straight off the back of a physical issue and I’d much prefer to see her have another confidence boosting spin between now and the Festival if I was on her side.
Angels Breath was impressive in both his chases at Ascot, but is on the injury list after striking into himself last time out and misses the rest of the season, but Nicky Henderson may have another viable contender in his care in the shape of Mister Fisher.
Mister Fisher clearly appreciated the step up in trip to 2m4f when outstaying the very useful Good Boy Bobby over the Marsh C&D last month. That was his first attempt over anything further than the minimum distance, over which he’d been beaten by Torpillo in his chasing debut, but jumped accurately and saw the extra half mile out well.
Nevertheless, I’d argue that Mister Fisher still has ground to make up on those at the very top level; he was certainly a notch below top class as a novice hurdler and though his form so far over fences is hard to knock, I still think it falls a level short of what is usually required to win this.
The Henderson yard also has Champ in the betting for this, but market and stable vibes suggest the RSA is a likelier option for that one.
Black Op has bounced back to form this campaign after a lacklustre first season of novice chasing, and though only a winner in one of his three starts this season, he’d probably be the horse I’d side with at the prices at this stage.
I’ve never been fully convinced by him as a three-miler, and thought it was his lack of stamina at a crucial point that saw him beaten in the Kauto Star.
That was a fine run otherwise, as was his second behind Champ at Newbury, who I think could be a potentially exceptional chaser once it all clicks for him.
I think the Marsh will play to Black Op’s strengths arguably more than any other race he’s taken part in this season, and with he’s emerged with great credit on all other runs so far this campaign. He looks a very solid option.
Reserve Tank, pre-season favourite for this, is still short enough in the betting, despite having met defeat on two of his three starts over fences.
He’s looked far a natural over the bigger obstacles though, and his fencing technique would surely be a huge worry to anyone with antepost pennies on him,