Leopardstown re­port and week­end previews:

To­day’s high­light could iden­tify a real con­tender to Bu­veur D’Air come March

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Brian O’Con­nor Rac­ing Cor­re­spon­dent

Bu­veur D’Air’s shock de­feat at Kemp­ton on St Stephen’s Day re­ju­ve­nated the Cham­pion Hur­dle pic­ture so Samcro gets a chance to get back into the cham­pi­onship frame at Leopardstown to­day.

Samcro is set to face half a dozen op­po­nents in the Grade One Ryanair Hur­dle spon­sored by his owner, Michael O’Leary.

It’s an op­por­tu­nity for most of them to pitch claims for a Cham­pion Hur­dle that looked all but guar­an­teed for the reign­ing ti­tle holder prior to his loss on Wed­nes­day.

Bu­veur D’Air’s nar­row de­feat by Ver­dana Blue has al­tered the com­plex­ion of March’s high­light though it’s yet an­other re­minder that cham­pi­ons aren’t crowned ten weeks out from the race it­self.

Samcro was com­pre­hen­sively de­feated by Bu­veur D’Air in New­cas­tle’s Fight­ing Fifth at the start of the month, a sec­ond de­feat in a row for a horse that has car­ried vast ex­pec­ta­tion from his novice days.

Whether Samcro can ever re­cover that aura of ex­pec­ta­tion is ques­tion­able no mat­ter what he goes on to do dur­ing his ca­reer, even if it is worth keep­ing in mind his long-term fu­ture has al­ways looked to be over fences.

But if he isn’t the horse many hoped, he’s still only 8-1 in ante-post bet­ting to give O’Leary and trainer Gor­don El­liott a first Cham­pion Hur­dle in March.

That’s the same price as one of his ri­vals to­day, Melon, and with ground con­di­tions still pre­vent­ing Lau­rina’s re­turn to ac­tion this Ryanair Hur­dle could iden­tify a real cham­pi­onship con­tender come March.

Whether those ground con­di­tions play to Samcro’s strengths as much as, say, soft go­ing around Chel­tenham might is de­bat­able.

In both of his de­feats this term the strap­ping chest­nut has looked to jump rel­a­tively de­lib­er­ately in com­par­i­son to a nat­u­rally smooth hur­dler like Bu­veur D’Air.

That has prompted some to sus­pect Samcro may have been bet­ter off switch­ing to novice chases but El­liott and the Gig­gin­stown Stud team are res­o­lute about stay­ing hur­dling.

“We’ll give two miles an­other shot and we’ve got Tomb­stone in there to make it a true-run race,” Gig­gin­stown’s spokesman, Ed­die O’Leary, said yes­ter­day.

In­trigu­ing con­test

“I think as long as it’s a de­cent pace he’ll be happy and that’s the same for them all re­ally. This is a very good race. There are some qual­ity two-mile hur­dlers in it and it will take some win­ning. It’s a long way from be­ing Samcro’s race,” he added.

Samcro re­news ri­valry with the cross-chan­nel raider Bedrock, who beat him at Down Royal al­most two months ago, and Shara­jah, third at Down Royal, who boosted the form of that race by sub­se­quently land­ing the Mor­giana.

Su­pa­sun­dae’s pres­ence back at two miles adds an­other layer to an in­trigu­ing con­test that also in­cludes the 2016 win­ner Petit Mou­choir. He re­turns to ac­tion af­ter spend­ing last sea­son novice chas­ing.

In con­trast, the plan for Melon has al­ways been to try and go one bet­ter than his Cham­pion Hur­dle sec­ond last sea­son.

He comes here with­out a run but has won first time out for the last two sea­sons and is the sort of smooth trav­eller that should al­low Ruby Walsh to keep tabs on ev­ery­thing in front of him.

Melon has al­ways been highly re­garded by the Wil­lie Mullins team and there is a be­lief at Clo­sut­ton that the six year old is ca­pa­ble of step­ping up even more on what he did last sea­son.

“Melon was go­ing to run in the Mor­giana but wasn’t sparkling in his work so once we missed that we said we’d come straight here. He’s in good form now, work­ing much bet­ter,” Patrick Mullins re­ported.

Since he got to within a neck of Bu­veur D’Air in the Cham­pion Hur­dle last sea­son that makes Melon a prime con­tender for the crown in March. And just af­ter 2.30 on Satur­day he might ap­pear to be even more so.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ALAN CROWHURST/GETTY IM­AGES

Melon (right) came within a neck of Bueveur D’Air in the Cham­pion Hur­dle at Chel­tenham which must give him a great chance in to­day’s Ryanair Hur­dle.

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