Gordon Elliott pays champion tribute after Samcro is humbled
The hype around Samcro continued right up until the tapes went up for the Fighting Fifth as he opened 11-8 in the ring, but went off 6-5 favourite to beat dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air.
It was remarkable how that was quashed in a scorching final two furlongs, in which Buveur D'Air showed Samcro that class on its own is not enough to be a champion hurdler. You have to keep your nose to the ground, too, as Buveur D'Air did with his enthusiasm and quick, if not always perfect, jumping.
The shift became obvious as they entered the winners' enclosure. The same crowd that had put their money squarely behind Samcro raucously acknowledged a horse that now looks on a collision course with history, odds-on to match his owner's legendary Istabraq with a third Champion Hurdle success in March.
Similarly, the reverence shown to the winner by connections of the vanquished illustrated how far the centre of gravity had shifted in just a few minutes. It all happened so fast as to resemble historic revisionism, as though Sonny Liston had knocked out Cassius Clay.
"No excuses. He's been beaten by a very, very good horse," said Gordon Elliott of Samcro, perhaps the first humble words he has ever had to offer about his stable star.
The race resembled a chaser against a hurdler down the back straight. Samcro, towering over Buveur D'Air, jumped big and bold, his rival low and economical. But there is no talk of going over fences this season.
"We'll train him for the Champion Hurdle, there is no question of that," Elliott emphasised. "You can't be scared of one horse and we'll probably try to avoid him in the meantime."
Asked what it would take to overturn the eight-length deficit come Cheltenham, Elliott said: "A miracle," repeating himself after a short pregnant pause.
With Samcro there remains another day in March and, beyond that, surely plenty more big ones to come. To finish second in a Grade 1 hurdle, while continuing to resemble the staying chaser he was bought to be, is still the mark of a potential champion. But on Saturday he was shown what it takes to be a real one.
Similar comments apply to Summerville Boy, who won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year but looked uncomfortable from an early stage under the usually quiet Noel Fehily.
Trainer Tom George said: "He just couldn't handle it against two very good horses. We'll get him home and think about what to do next, but he was beaten at Stratford on his first run last year and maybe that's just him."
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