Gordon Elliott was impressively succinct after seeing his hurdler Samcro routed by Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle here on Saturday. What does Samcro need if he is to find at least eight lengths on the winner in the Champion Hurdle in March? “A miracle,” Elliott said, and he is probably right.
The much-anticipated meeting of three Grade One winners from last season’s Cheltenham Festival was an actual race for only the few seconds it took Buveur D’Air to cruise past Samcro between the final two flights.
Summerville Boy, the Supreme Novice Hurdle winner in March, was already a spent force while Samcro, who had set a steady pace from the off, was a sitting target for Buveur D’Air, who flew past the leader a few strides before the last flight. Even a clumsy jump there was not enough to interrupt his form and the dual Champion Hurdler quickened into a clear lead on the rain-softened ground as if he was running on tarmac.
The eight-length winning margin was not even close to a fair reflection of the superiority of Barry Geraghty’s mount after what was a flawless display of two-mile hurdling until his mistake at the last obstacle.
All the money beforehand was for the upstart Samcro, who was backed relentlessly in the minutes leading up to the off to start favourite at 6-5. Buveur D’Air, with 10 straight wins against his name, set off at 11-8 – the first time he has been anything but an odds-on favourite since his first Champion Hurdle in March 2017.
Punters are unlikely to desert him so readily in future. Buveur D’Air is now odds-on with several firms to match the achievement of Istabraq in 2000 – who also raced in the green and gold of owner JP McManus – by winning the Champion Hurdle for the third year in a row. Nicky Henderson’s winner is still just seven and may well have improved following a wind operation over the summer, so the standout 11-10 with Unibet, the Cheltenham race’s sponsor, may not last long.
“It was a concern coming here as it was such a strong race,” Geraghty said. “Samcro had the benefit of a run and Summerville Boy had form on the ground, so it wasn’t in the bag.
“For me, that’s along the lines of the Champion Hurdle form, and he’s done it first time in what was a very strong contest. He’s only seven rising eight, so he’s entitled to improve and maybe the wind op helped as well.”
The race-fit Samcro was dispatched so readily that it came as something of a surprise to hear Elliott commit his horse to hurdles for the rest of the campaign. Samcro towered over his rivals in the paddock and jumped like a chaser for much of the way, so a rematch with Buveur D’Air next spring looks like a sporting decision but not necessarily the most logical of choices. He lost a shoe in the home straight, but it made no difference to the outcome.
“No excuses,” Elliott said. “We got beaten by a very, very good horse. Jack [Kennedy] gave him a great ride, it wasn’t ideal to have to make the running but the best horse won, no matter what happened that would have been the result.
“I’m still going to train him for the Champion Hurdle, I’m not going to back down. We’ll need an awful lot of luck but we’ve decided we’re going to train him for the Champion Hurdle and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Buveur D’Air is likely to head for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, another race that he won 12 months ago, while Samcro’s campaign will probably be in Ireland before he returns to Britain in the spring.
Newbury was also damp and windswept on Saturday as Tom Scudamore steered Sizing Tennessee, a 12-1 chance, to a comfortable victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase ahead of Elegant Escape, a stable companion at Colin Tizzard’s west country yard.
“I lost my grandfather two weeks ago, it was his funeral yesterday and I wasn’t able to go,” Scudamore said. “Those are the sacrifices you make. I was sorry not to be there, but he was with us today.”