Tony Keenan would like to see more from Samcro and Footpad
Tony Keenan with his latest views on the Irish NH scene
COMING out of the autumn, Samcro and Footpad were probably the two National Hunt horses racing fans were most looking forward to. On one level, it makes no sense that we want to see the graduating novices rather than the proven champions like Buveur D’Air and Altior, but untapped potential and the hope of finding a true superstar drives interest in the game.
Samcro was unbeaten when standing up over hurdles, Footpad was unbeaten over fences full stop, and both were trading strong second favourites for the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase at the start of November in the face of the aforementioned Henderson pair.
Neither came close to matching expectations on their respective returns, though Samcro went with more encouragement. Faced with an apparent Sophie’s choice of the Champion Hurdle this season or the Gold Cup in 2020, Gigginstown opted for the former and while Samcro lacked the wow factor on return at Down Royal, he showed enough to say more Grade 1s are on the way.
His late withdrawal from the Morgiana Hurdle on account of the ground being too quick meant we remain in the dark about whether he has the speed for a Champion Hurdle though at least a horse that finished behind him at Down Royal (Sharjah) won the race. Still, perhaps races over intermediate trips will suit him best though the Hatton’s Grace (previewed later) seems off the agenda with the Fighting Fifth apparently next up.
Footpad has much more to prove. Jumping had been a strength as a novice, his only real mistake coming down the back in the Arkle, but from the early stages of his Naas return he was big at his fences before more serious errors followed. He ultimately fell at the last when seemingly beaten by Saint Calvados who himself had not fenced smoothly. Footpad’s trainer reported afterwards that he had suffered an overreach. Some suggested that a step up in trip might suit and he did stay much further than two miles over hurdles but he is likely to struggle at any distance if jumping like he did at Naas.
Horses can of course return to form after below-par efforts and Apple’s Jade is a case in point; having twice disappointed when in and out of season last spring. Gordon Elliott seemed to have resolved the issues of managing her menstrual cycles in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan as she ran out an 11length winner. That sets her up for the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on December 2 where she will bid to win the race for the third time, a feat achieved by both Limestone Lad and Solerina in the past.
She is very much the one to beat there though Willie Mullins will certainly have some ammunition to fire at the race, not least Melon. The Champion Hurdle second was an intended runner in the Morgiana but worked poorly in the lead-up to the race and Mullins instead ran Faugheen; that didn’t work out well for the horse as he got beaten at 2/5 but substantial improvement can expected.
The trainer reported in a recent stable tour that he may need the run as, unlike in 2017 when he had been in training for most of the summer ahead