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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 4 March 2021
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'I have tears in my eyes' - Elliott rejoices after Samcro's heroic photo-finish win

Johnny Ward reports from another dramatic day at Cheltenham.

Gordon Elliott celebrates after Samcro's victory.
Gordon Elliott celebrates after Samcro's victory.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IF SOCIAL MEDIA is a reasonable guide, should it be a reasonable guide on anything, racing is not exactly cantering in the popularity stakes right now.

Even the serene seem apoplectic back home, as if the end is nigh. People are stocking up on everything – and a shout out to the geezer in the Tesco in Lucan spotted with a trolley full of cans of Carlsberg.

But even if history records that racing suffered a damaging PR defeat due to the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, there cannot be many better exponents of the fight to win over hearts and minds than the Marsh Chase that was won here by Samcro today.

Whatever us Irish think of ourselves, we aren’t half afraid to knock someone off his proverbial perch. When Samcro was floored by Faugheen at Christmas, Twitter slated the vanquished as if he had gone into the race having told the world beforehand that Faugheen was nothing but a hound.

The parade ring must have been a very lonely place that grey December day at Limerick if you were Samcro or belonged to him. He clearly choked in the race, jumped the last like a drunk and cannot have been loving the life of looking up the arse of Faugheen.

Those myriad of knockers, who find social media a perfect home for their brand of disdain, were curiously silent yesterday as Samcro gave a reminder that when he is not feeling pain he is one hell of a racehorse.

I watched the race close to Eddie O’Leary, whose initial reaction as they crossed the line was that Samcro may have held on.

The slow-mo suggested he might be right and, the result called, one of the faces of Gigginstown looked relieved.

Nearby, Eddie’s daughter Megan leapt like a gazelle. Jack Kennedy, who would have been riding him were he not on crutches, bore the expression of pained delight.

Somewhere not far away, Gordon Elliott was crying. They say that connections were sure they had pinpointed an excuse for his Limerick run but, so many having been made for a year and a half of a mainly forgettable Samcro, they thought about a boy crying wolf.

“I was very doubtful (about the photo),” Davy Russell said, admitting afterwards: “He really wanted it today. He always tries to please you, it was very confusing with him not showing his best.”

Mounted coming in, Russell playfully plucked his trilby off Eddie O’Leary’s head. Here was the owner who once sacked him.

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“I have tears in my eyes,” Gordon Elliott admitted.

We shouldn’t forget Melon’s role in an epic. Meanwhile, the horse who finished third probably wondered why he was not being steered into the spot reserved for the winner, so familiar to the legend that is Faugheen. He would have been further confused in that he got a louder cheer than Samcro.

Samcro and Faugheen have the same daddy. Yesterday Samcro was the prodigal son who came home to find that, for everything that had gone wrong on a troubled road, he still had people who loved him.

For five or so wonderful minutes, none of us were thinking about the coronavirus.

Faugheen failed valiantly but Willie Mullins was hardly going to go without a winner. Min excelled under Paul Townend in the Ryanair Chase, while Concertista absolutely demolished her foes in the mares’ novice hurdle, a race no other trainer has won.

Min had been to Cheltenham three times and failed three times. If not quite of Samcro dimensions, there was an element there too of perseverance paying off.

“He’s been a super horse for us and it’s great he’s had his day here,” Mullins said.

“We used the wrong tactics on him in the Champion Chase last year and it didn’t work out. He likes to be up there, Paul let him do that and here he is again at the top table.”

A Welsh woman (Rebecca Curtis) and an Englishman in Adam Wedge combined in the Stayers’ Hurdle, Lisnagar Oscar making a mockery of his odds of 50/1, with favourite Paisley Park floundering.

And it was Gordon Elliott’s Milan Native who won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup, taking Elliott’s tally to three for the day and six for the week. 

After Concertista’s win in the mares’ novice hurdle, word was getting through that we will be racing again tomorrow. Some Irish journalists have been ordered to go home or decided to do so.

In the late afternoon, Horse Racing Ireland revealed that it was staging its races behind closed doors for the time being, an option that Cheltenham may or may not have had for Friday, when those of us still here, feeling uneasy, return for the final day.

I appreciate that writing articles from Cheltenham has now gotten to the stage where it is inevitable that they will annoy people, though it should be said I am a freelance journalist whose workload and wages are going to be decimated in the coming weeks.

This is understandable, whatever about the British government.

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Johnny Ward

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