Sam­cro faces big­gest test as he takes on dual cham­pion

O’Leary tar­gets bum­ber week­end as Ap­ple’s Jade chases Hat­ton’s hat-trick

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RACING NEWS, PROGRAMME AND RESULTS - BriAn O’Con­nor Rac­ing Cor­re­spon­dent

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has an­other Win­ter Fes­ti­val feast in his sights at Fairyhouse to­mor­row although hors d’oeu­vres hardly come more sub­stan­tial than Sam­cro’s ap­pear­ance to­day at New­cas­tle.

The horse O’Leary felt it nec­es­sary last sea­son to in­sist isn’t the se­cond com­ing of Christ lines up in a po­ten­tially epic BetVic­tor Fight­ing Fifth Hur­dle.

Ranged against him are the reign­ing dual-Cham­pion Hur­dle win­ner Bu­veur D’Air and last sea­son’s top cross-chan­nel novice Sum­merville Boy, although his old ri­val Bedrock, who cre­ated the shock of the sea­son to date by beat­ing Sam­cro at Down Royal last month, is a non-run­ner.

For a star, once mem­o­rably ac­claimed by no less than Davy Rus­sell as be­ing as good as we’ll ever see, that de­feat re­moved a sub­stan­tial amount of gloss from Sam­cro’s once-gleam­ing rep­u­ta­tion.

Its scale meant de­bate raged even through the sum­mer about whether or not he would be best go­ing straight over fences or tak­ing a tilt at the Cham­pion Hur­dle this sea­son. Odds were even of­fered on him even­tu­ally emu­lat­ing Dawn Run’s Cham­pion Hur­dle-Gold Cup dou­ble.

How­ever it’s an un­for­giv­ing sort of rep­u­ta­tion too, and one that will hardly sur­vive a se­cond de­feat in a row. So there is gen­uine an­tic­i­pa­tion of what shapes as a mini-cham­pi­onship event at the start of De­cem­ber.

Maybe ul­ti­mately Sam­cro’s novice rep­u­ta­tion will get added to the long list of other hyped young stars who failed to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions. The chance to put it to the test against se­niors at Punchestown last Spring proved in­con­clu­sive when he fell.

De­fin­i­tive test

So after be­ing beaten at Down Royal, and skipped the Mor­giana due to ground con­di­tions, this Fight­ing Fifth shapes as a de­fin­i­tive test of Sam­cro’s ca­pac­ity to live up to the hype.

“It’s a big ask. He’s tak­ing on a dual Cham­pion Hur­dle win­ner so it’s a huge ask,” said Gig­gin­stown’s Ed­die O’Leary. “At least we’ll known what direc­tion we are go­ing in after this.”

New­cas­tle’s flat track mightn’t play en­tirely to Sam­cro’s strengths. But against that he has the Down Royal ex­pe­ri­ence un­der his belt whereas Bu­veur D’Air is hav­ing his first start of the new cam­paign.

Time might yet prove it was Sum­merville Boy’s ca­pac­ity to over­come ad­ver­sity in the Supreme last March that her­alded a truly ex­cep­tional novice tal­ent.

But, as of now, all eyes will fall on the hand­some Ir­ish ch­est­nut and O’Leary’s Gig­gin­stown Stud colours that will be sported by Jack Kennedy on his re­turn to ac­tion fol­low­ing a whip sus­pen­sion.

Kennedy will also be the fo­cus of at­ten­tion 24 hours later when the 19-year-old rider aims to steer O’Leary’s star mare Ap­ple’s Jade to a Bar One Rac­ing Hat­ton’s Grace Hur­dle hat-trick. Vic­tory in the ¤125,000 fea­ture of Fairyhouse’s triple-Grade One pro­gramme will see Ap­ple’s Jade em­u­late So­le­rina (2003-05) as the only horse to win the Hat­ton’s Grace three years in a row.

The con­trast be­tween So­le­rina emerg­ing from James Bowe’s fam­ily farm and O’Leary’s sprawl­ing blood­stock em­pire could hardly be greater. Gig­gin­stown’s strength-in-depth was vividly il­lus­trated at last year’s Win­ter Fes­ti­val when record­ing an un­prece­dented clean-sweep of the three Grade One prizes.

Ap­ple’s Jade is back for more and O’Leary is in the en­vi­able po­si­tion too of pos­si­bly hav­ing a new white-hot novice hope in Com­man­der Of Fleet who lines up against just four op­po­nents in the Royal Bond Novice Hur­dle.

The scarcity of op­po­si­tion to Com­man­der Of Fleet could be to do with his own un­beaten rep­u­ta­tion. But this is a Win­ter Fes­ti­val tak­ing place on the sort of ‘good’ ground that would be per­fectly ac­cept­able for top flat horses dur­ing the sum­mer.

Fairyhouse’s man­ager Peter Roe said yes­ter­day he is an­tic­i­pat­ing no more than half an inch of rain by to­mor­row which will leave the ground un­changed.

Hard to beat

Such a con­sid­er­a­tion prompted Wil­lie Mullins to go with four run­ners in the Hat­ton’s Grace although cru­cially they don’t in­clude ei­ther Lau­rina or Be­nie De Dieux. In­stead Ruby Walsh, who skips the week­end chases, will be on board Li­mini.

Even con­ced­ing the 7lb mares al­lowance, Su­pa­sun­dae holds a ma­jor Hat­ton’s Grace chance on rat­ings but it will be his first start of the sea­son. In con­trast Ap­ple’s Jade looked back to her best in the Lis­mullen and should prove hard to beat.

Gig­gin­stown have three in the Drin­more Novice Chase but with ground con­di­tions the way they are O’Leary’s great ri­val, JP McManus, looks to hold sound claims with Le Richebourg.

In other news, the Ir­ish Horserac­ing Reg­u­la­tory Board says it is ex­am­in­ing whether or not to repli­cate the British Horserac­ing Author­ity which an­nounced this week that the first four fin­ish­ers in all ma­jor races in Bri­tain are be­ing drug tested. The BHA’s lat­est anti-dop­ing mea­sures will see the first four horses in all Group races on the flat, and Grade One races over jumps tested.

“We haven’t made a de­ci­sion but we are ex­am­in­ing it,” said the IHRB’s chief ex­ec­u­tive De­nis Egan. “At the mo­ment we test the win­ners and sec­onds in all Group One and Group Two races and the win­ners and sec­onds in Grade Ones.”

Yes­ter­day the IHRB con­firmed the Wil­lie Mullins-trained Tor­nado Flyer tested pos­i­tive for a pro­hib­ited sub­stance after win­ning the Grade One bumper at last April’s Punchestown fes­ti­val. How­ever the horse has kept the race and the cham­pion trainer hasn’t been sanc­tioned.

Tor­nado Flyer tested pos­i­tive for Ce­t­i­rizne which has anti-his­tamine prop­er­ties. How­ever the lev­els were well be­low pro­posed new screen­ing lev­els for the sub­stance so the panel didn’t im­pose sanc­tions.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ALAN CROWHURST/GETTY IM­AGES

Sam­cro and Jack Kennedy take on dual Cham­pion Hur­dle win­ner Bu­veur D’Air in the Fight­ing Fifth Hur­dle at New­cas­tle to­day.

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