Few horses had the level of expectation that surrounded Gordon Elliott’s Samcro at the start of this jump season, yet perhaps only Might Bite has seen his star fall so dramatically.
“He’s got a lung infection and he could have had it for a while – it was very, very deep,” Gigginstown’s Eddie O’Leary told Press Association Sport.
“We’ll do whatever is in the best interests of the horse now, he won’t run again until he is well enough to run.
“He’s been placed on antibiotics for 10 days, but it was quite a deep infection so we’ll let him come back in his own time.
“It’s unlikely that he’ll run again this season, but not out of the question. Certainly Cheltenham is doubtful, but he could make Punchestown, we’ll just have to see.”
The last couple of years were almost perfect for Samcro, with the only blot on his CV before this autumn being that fall in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Punchestown last April.
Indeed, pundits and punters were wondering if Elliott would send Samcro chasing this season, but the Meath-based trainer signalled that the six-year-old would continue over hurdles. Of course, that suggested we might see a Champion Hurdle showdown with the mighty Buveur D’Air.
No wins yet this season for Samcro
Things haven’t gone to plan though, with Samcro looking a little sluggish in his season debut at Down Royal, where he finished a narrow runner-up to Bedrock. Those early season races can often be put down to a bit of rust though, so Samcro next went off as favourite in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, against a field that featured a certain Buveur D’Air. In the end, Samcro was outclassed by Buveur D’Air, who looked like he was moving through the gears with ease.
After the Fighting Fifth, Samcro was again put in as the favourite for the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown at the end of December. Finishing back in 5th place, Samcro didn’t disgrace himself, as the race featured quality opposition like race winner Sharjah, Supasundae and the runner-up of last year’s Champion Hurdle, Melon. However, the imperious – unbeatable, Samcro we had seen over the last couple of years was gone.
Champion Hurdle odds pushed out to 25/1
After that, the bookies made their move: Samcro’s Champion Hurdle odds have floated out to 25/1 with Betfair, although some outlets like BetVictor have kept him down at 12/1. Regardless, Samcro’s woes have just added to what is an intriguing picture for the feature race on the opening day of the Festival.
For a start, Buveur D’Air himself has been pushed out to 6/4 by Betfair, after being narrowly beaten in the Unibet Christmas Hurdle by Verdana Blue. Nicky Henderson won’t be panicking over a defeat of a matter of inches, but it did show a slight chink in Buveur D’Air’s previously impenetrable armour.
Next to Buveur D’Air in the odds is Willie Mullins’ unbeaten mare Laurina, who is priced at 9/2 with Betfair. The 6-year-old won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last year, but she has yet to have been tested against the quality that she will face in the Champion Hurdle.
Sharjah and Verdana Blue also look in good shape
Others standing firm in the betting markets include: Melon (8/1), Sharjah (8/1) and Verdana Blue (12/1, all odds Betfair). But do any show the same sort of value as Samcro? Sure, he may be out of sorts, but you can get free bets for Cheltenham to use on the Champion Hurdle and those 25/1 odds look like a bargain for such a punt, especially if Elliott can get Samcro anywhere near his best.
Of course, Buveur D’Air is still very much the horse to beat, but the Christmas Hurdle showed that the two-time Champion Hurdle winner is not unbeatable. If Samcro’s performances over the last few months were just some temporary form issues, then that 25/1 is a standout price. If there is a deeper malaise, well, it’s disappointing as Samcro really did look like he could be one of the best.