Sport Punchestown

Sunday 17 February 2019

Samcro may not make mouth-watering clash

Faugheen and Ruby Walsh go for glory in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown today. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Faugheen and Ruby Walsh go for glory in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown today. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Daragh Ó Conchúir

At the conclusion of the Punchestown Festival last April you would have got long odds against Faugheen and Samcro locking horns in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at the same venue today.

Indeed, for a while there was more chance that Germany's two sons would clash in a novice chase, with Samcro especially having the stamp of a Gold Cup horse about him and owner Michael O'Leary always more enthusiastic about the larger obstacles.

But concerns about the ground mean that Gordon Elliott is still not sure if Samcro will line up. "I'm nervous enough and I'd be 50-50 about whether I would run him. I'll walk it again in the morning," Elliott said yesterday. "There was a lot of drying there today - it's tricky enough. You can't blame the racecourse either, it's the way the weather is. I'd love to run him, but I'm not going to take a chance."

Faugheen has already travelled the route seemingly being mapped out for Samcro, haveing won the Champion Hurdle in March 2015, following up on what is now the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle 12 months previously - the same race Samcro triumphed in last March and a proven route to the two-mile championship.

Rich Ricci's star missed the next two renewals of the Champion Hurdle through injury, and by the time he arrived eight months ago, he was showing nothing like his dominant form and performed accordingly.

That made his stunning success over three miles at Punchestown the following month all the better, for it was so unexpected, and the reception accorded to the former champion spoke volumes for how the public love when a champion fights back from adversity.

Ricci and Willie Mullins talked about the possibility of chasing thereafter but all the time one felt a staying route over flights was more likely, given that he will be 11 in the new year.

"I got off him after the Champion Hurdle and said he wanted three miles and he won the three-mile in Punchestown," recalls jockey Ruby Walsh.

"On reflection, you give older horses the benefit of the doubt. His run at Leopardstown at Christmas was shocking, but he was much better in the Irish Champion Hurdle when second to Supasundae. He was working fine without burning the gallop down. You're thinking a pair of cheekpieces might sharpen him up and it'll be alright on the day.

"From the word go (in the Champion Hurdle) Charlie Parcs was going quicker than I was able to go. I wasn't even able to go really fast enough for Buveur D'Air and Melon. Both were up on my heels galloping over me from the get-go.

"But when they took it off Faugheen after the second last, he should have folded and finished tailed off but he didn't and kept running, right back to the line. So when he won in Punchestown you're thinking he wants a trip.

"But he is showing that spark in his work at the moment. That might just be the freshness of the early season as well, that he's well and enthusiastic. Maybe when he goes to Punchestown he will want a trip. We don't know. But he's in really good form, he likes the track and we're going to give it a go."

That suggests this is a bit of a fact-finding mission. There will be an alternative if it is confirmed Faugheen no longer has the speed for the shorter distance but Walsh insists that Mullins is not one for fact-finding missions in Grade Ones.

"Faugheen can't tell us, 'I've lost a yard of pace here, I need to go a bit further.' His work at home does suggest he'll be fast enough for the race but only time will tell. Willie doesn't run horses for the sake of having runners. He thinks this is the right race for the horse and I'm not going to doubt him."

This is not a two-horse race of course. "Supasundae has been lost a bit in the talk," he adds. "He beat Faugheen at Leopardstown last year and won the Punchestown Champion Hurdle."

There are so many questions, but will they all be answered?

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