Time to believe the hype after Samcro lands monster gamble in Ballymore
The most-hyped horse at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival delivered on all his promise – and the hopes of thousands of true-believing punters – on Wednesday when running out a comfortable winner of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, delivering a performance full of poise and power under an 18-year-old jockey in Jack Kennedy who embodied exactly the same qualities.
For months owner Michael O'Leary, the Ryanair boss, had cautioned punters not to believe everything they heard about supposed good thing Samcro. Exasperated with what he perceived as over-the-top coverage of his burgeoning superstar, before Christmas he declared Samcro wasn't "the second coming of Jesus Christ".
The winner's divinity may still be under dispute – at least until he can return next year and put another field to the sword – but already Samcro has a legion of disciples and on Wednesday he fed and watered the 50,000, turning pounds and euros into steak and Guinness.
Rarely has Cheltenham let rip a more exultant roar than when Samcro bounded into the lead turning for home, still full of running and moving with that easy rhythm that marks out a winner in waiting. He idled in front and Black Op and Noel Fehily crept into Kennedy's peripheral vision, but there was never more than a flicker of doubt for the winner's supporters.
"With horses like this, there is lots of pressure on them delivering, but Samcro did it well and we can enjoy this now," said trainer Gordon Elliott.
"We had a rough day yesterday with Apple's Jade running below par and Mossback sadly losing his life, but in this game you just have to pick your head up and go again."
This was a second festival winner for Kennedy after Labaik's Supreme victory last year and on all evidence so far there will be many more to his name in the years to come, not least, one would think, from Samcro himself.
"He's very relaxed, a very straightforward ride," Kennedy said. "He's a little bit lazy when he hits the front, that's the only thing, but he's a great horse."
Asked whether his partner would be best served by going chasing next or whether a shift up in trip was in order, he added: "I'm not sure it really matters to him but I'd love to ride him over a fence, he'd be utterly brilliant."
There was no shame at all in finishing second to Samcro, and trainer Tom George said of Black Op: "It was a great run and I suppose on that he's the best [at this trip] in this country.
"He's going to make a cracking chaser next year. It's all about fences with him. He's a big, long-striding horse and he's going to make some three-mile chaser in due course."
Next Destination was third for Willie Mullins after staying on with gusto having been outpaced earlier.
"Samcro is going to be very hard to beat wherever he goes," Mullins said. "He looks the real deal."
Even O'Leary finally joined the chorus of praise for Samcro. "The bookmakers are always trying to suck people into the ante-post markets and he didn't justify the hype around Christmas or January, but he certainly justified it today," he said.
"There is still too much hype, but at least he has won at Cheltenham and is going the right way."
O'Leary wouldn't be drawn into discussing future plans for Samcro beyond an outing at the Punchestown festival.
"I'll just enjoy today," he said. "Today will do."
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