Wednesday 23 October 2019

Elliott's faith in shrewd 'Judge' continues to bear fruit for stable

Top man: Shane McCann, pictured here on Samcro, is held in high regard by Gordon Elliott. Photo: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Top man: Shane McCann, pictured here on Samcro, is held in high regard by Gordon Elliott. Photo: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

It's no coincidence that Shane McCann has been closely associated with the two most high-profile horses to take residence in Gordon Elliott's yard in recent seasons.

Known in Cullentra as 'The Judge' - a name given to him when new staff realised that everyone was always seeking his equine advice - McCann has the unique distinction of being the work rider of both Don Cossack and Samcro.

Little did he know that when injury forced the retirement of 2016 Gold Cup hero Don Cossack that he would soon switch over to another Gigginstown inmate that would be mentioned in the same breath. As one door closes, another opens.

The Clonee, Co Meath native - who had his last ride as a professional jockey nearly eight years ago - describes Samcro as "a pleasure to ride, he's an aul' gentleman of a horse" which will take time to live up to his lofty reputation against seasoned pros.


The gloss has been somewhat taken off the impressive Neptune winner with back-to-back reversals this season - the most recent of which was a decisive defeat to Nicky Henderson's Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air - but McCann senses that the best is yet to come.

"He's been a stronger horse since he came back in and I wouldn't be disappointed with him at all, it's a big step up to go straight out of novice company against the big boys," head work rider McCann says.

"He has to take them on if he's going to prove himself. He is probably the most hyped horse in a good while around here anyway, since maybe Don Cossack and Don Cossack did the same when he came out of novice company.

"He had it tough for that first season and then a year later he showed what he could really do when he was a bit stronger.

"March (Cheltenham) was the main aim last season and that'll be the same this season."

Don't expect Samcro to make the running in his next outing either with McCann insisting that many valuable learnings have been taken from that Fighting Fifth Hurdle experience at Newcastle ten days ago.

"He's as good a judge as there is in the yard," Elliott says of McCann - who started out with Jim Dreaper - and when the leading trainer is regularly asked about the well-being of Samcro, McCann's name is never far from his lips as he knows him best.

"If you're riding the horse day in, day out, you're the one that's going to know what he's like and what he's feeling like," McCann says.

"If you're swapping and changing riders, another rider mightn't know his quirks or whatever or if he's in good form or bad form.

"But if it's the same rider every day and he's doing the same work with him, he's going to know if he's on song.

"You definitely get the tingle (when Samcro runs), you'd be a little bit nervous but mostly you're hoping that they come back safe and sound."

McCann has been a trusted lieutenant of Elliott's from the outset and the Grand National victory of Silver Birch in 2007 - when "half of Meath had money on him" - perfectly sums up his extraordinary training career.

That was achieved despite not having a winner in Ireland to his name at the time and exemplifies that Elliott is not one for half measures. His state-of-the-art 78-acre facility outside Longwood suggests likewise.

A haven of activity with workers around every corner - and a positive atmosphere based on mutual respect - McCann marvels in his surroundings and knows that Elliott has no intention of slowing down, the only gear he knows is forward.

"When we came into Cullentra first, there was two barns in the yard that would fit 20-odd horses. This is basically built from scratch. It's unbelievable what's here now," McCann says.

"Every year there's more and more being put into this place so it's all on the up.

"It's always about improving and making changes and going on striving to be better and better and that's what it's all about I suppose."

Irish Independent

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