Samcro provides wow factor before tale of unexpected in Gold Cup

By Johnny Ward
Sun 4 Feb 2018

An epic final day of the Dublin Winter Festival at Leopardstown included four Grade One races and no shortage of thrills, Johnny Ward reports.

By Johnny Ward at Leopardstown

Likely the only one who doesn’t believe in the Samcro hype is Samcro.

He’s a dude: handsome yet humble, a giant and a lamb. He strolled about the parade ring, sauntered into the winner’s circle and did little in between in demolishing nominally Grade One-class rivals in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle on an epic second day of the Dublin Racing Festival.

Trainer Gordon Elliott said beforehand the horse needed to improve; owner Michael O’Leary insisted afterwards he was concerned about the ground. It was hard work believing either.

It was not hard work for Samcro, who produced a performance over a trip that may be shy of his best that puts him into a different category altogether.

Samcro study - Feb 2018 - Leopardstown Samcro looked the complete package at Leopardstown on Sunday (Racingfotos)

Unbeaten in seven starts, he is now as short as 4-6 for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham next month but the many who hold dockets for that must be concerned he will reroute to the Sky Bet Supreme, for which he is no better than 5-1.

“Nothing fazes him, he just does what he has to do: eats, sleeps and drinks — a bit like myself,” said Elliott. “He was bought to be a three-mile chaser and that is what he is; he showed a lot of class there and could be anything.”

Cheltenham? “Coming today I thought we'd be going for Ballymore but he could go for any race,” Elliott said.

Teenage rider Jack Kennedy, who had little to do but avoid trouble, gave his own views on where to go at The Festival. He pointed out that “things just happen a bit quicker around Cheltenham” – and he is one from one in the Supreme after Labaik last year – but added: “I'm not sure it really matters.”

Sensible words for the young man, who appreciates where he is at. “Any 18-year-old would kill to be in my position,” ” he said.

That makes him almost half the years of Derek O’Connor, 35, but the Galwegian hardly greeted Sunday morning expecting he would win a Grade One race.

Samcro wins - Leopardstown - 2018 Kennedy and Samcro cross the line clear of their rivals (Racingfotos)

Perhaps the greatest amateur of all time, O’Connor spent the early part of the afternoon at the “day job” – riding at a point-to-point at Belharbour, not far from where he was weaned by the Galway-Clare border. He then rushed to Dublin to steer the rank outsider, Edwulf, in the feature Unibet Irish Gold Cup.

Everyone thought Edwulf had died after he went wrong on the run-in during the National Hunt Chase last March. The horse lost all his co-ordination, collapsed to the turf and according to trainer Joseph O'Brien spent “around half an hour on the ground”.

O’Connor’s axis was copper-fastened that day and the pair’s victory over the doughty Outlander was a hugely popular one at a sun-kissed Leopardstown – even if few may had backed the 33-1 winner, who had been 100-1 overnight.

Rekindling defying his youth to snare the Melbourne Cup, long-shot Tower Bridge breaking the trainer’s Grade-One duck on Saturday and now an Irish Gold Cup - not bad going for O’Brien. Then he is bred to be good, and his post-race manner betrays the lineage.

Like father like son – he name-checks a scatter of people in victory – but these are words of weight, considering the veterinary expertise that went into saving Edwulf.

“It's a credit to everyone involved: the staff at home, the vets at Cheltenham last year and JP (McManus) and Frank Berry (racing manager) who gave him all the time in the world.”

derek o'connor - edwulf win - 2018 O'Connor rode at a point-to-point meeting before landing the Irish Gold Cup on Edwulf (Racingfotos)

Coral cut Edwulf into 25-1 (from 100-1) for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, while they shortened final-fence faller Killultagh Vic to 14-1 from 33-1.

If Edwulf had to come back from the dead, it probably felt like something similar for Monalee, who got two kicks to the head after falling here over Christmas.

Henry De Bromhead nursed him back, a prisoner to patience, and he also had a new jockey in the Flogas Novice Chase, implying that Davy Russell had deserted him for Presenting Percy with a view to Cheltenham.

Noel Fehily will be hoping that it is so, as he conjured some spectacular leaps out of last year’s Albert Bartlett second, who then gamely repelled Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only in a gripping conclusion.

“He's some horse; it has been fantastic to get him here,” said de Bromhead, whose charge is now as low as 3-1 for the RSA Chase, though left at 6-1 elsewhere.

Monalee Ltown 11 Monalee, far side, flies the final fence surrounded by rivals (Racingfotos)

By the time racing concluded with Relegate landing the mares’ bumper for Willie Mullins, the never-ending drama seemed to have drained the well of recollection, such that Mr Adjudicator’s win in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle was a long time ago.

Mullins was winning his second Grade One of the weekend, Paul Townend the same. Mr Adjudicator goes to the JCB Triumph Hurdle, his odds as low as 7-1.

Willie’s mother, Maureen, has seen a lot throughout a life of horse racing. “Ireland is so good at attending racecourse meetings,” she said, one body in another healthy crowd of more than 12,000 (26,136 over the two days) to venture to the Dublin track. “This has been an amazing Festival,” added O’Brien.

He could not have said anything else but it was hard to disagree.

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