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Dublin: 5°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

Johnny Ward: Time may be a great healer for those who love Samcro

Faugheen struck a blow on St Stephen’s Day, but Samcro’s race is far from run.

Gigginstown's Eddie O'Leary watches the Limerick battle between Samcro and Faugheen on the big screens at Leopardstown.
Gigginstown's Eddie O'Leary watches the Limerick battle between Samcro and Faugheen on the big screens at Leopardstown.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

AROUND TWO YEARS ago, my local pub went under new management, and would never be the same again.

It was Dublin 8′s answer to Cheers, where everbody knew your name, even if there were always bright prospects of meeting someone new and interesting. It attracted politicians, actors, sports personalities, locals, the lot.

It still does well but now caters for a different audience, many of them dogs. Essentially feeling compelled to spend less time there was a good thing in some ways but, overnight, I lost regular contact with the guts of 50 people.

Some were avid racing fans, into which bracket fell one of my best friends from the pub. Now we see each other infrequently, prompting him to point out pre-racing on Thursday that it was nice to see that I was still alive.

He’s been racing much longer than me and is apt to glorify dead horses but treat the coronation of the latest prince with disdain. All through the career of Samcro, he would downplay the potential of the horse, and I knew that a WhatsApp message was coming last night.

Sure enough, it arrived. I’ve yet to respond.

“Just like to remind all the younger folk in this group about all those famous talking horses from bygone years,” he wrote.

“Samcro probably now one of the all-time great entrants albeit thanks surely to the modern phenomenon that is social media.

“Mind you,” he went on, “Cyrname beating non-stayer Footpad by five lengths could also be the beginning of something special.”

The other member of the group – there’s something special about three-member Whatsapp groups – responded with a screen grab of a tweet that noted that Samcro had won once of his last seven races, when sent off 4/6, 13/8, 1/3, 6/4, 6/5, 4/9, 5/6.

The social media to which my buddy referred was akin to an angry mob barging into each other to piss on a grave. It was as if Samcro had come along like a teenage footballer, told everyone in the media he was going to better Messi and then ended up playing in the League of Ireland.

You hardly missed it but if you did Samcro was beaten by another son of Germany, Faugheen, at Limerick on Thursday. That Faugheen could trounce the odds-on favourite days before he turns 12 inflamed a lust for blood.

“Samcro looked slightly fed up,” tweeted Tania.

“Samcro is a hype horse,” said another.

“So it turns out Michael O’Leary was about the only person in Ireland who wasn’t sucked in by the Samcro hype,” recalled James Knight. “He knows a low-quality ‘aeroplane’ when he sees one folks.”

“Guess know now that Samcro finds zilch,” said Cathal Gahan of the Racing Post. To be fair, he was not wrong.

What has poor Samcro done to deserve such vilification? Neither Michael nor Eddie O’Leary ever hyped him; even Gordon Elliott was apt to play down the hysteria, since he built up Don Cossack to be the greatest thing ever and that looked a foolish move until he went on to win a Gold Cup, lest one forget.

David Jennings, like me, cannot ever be too hard on the one he loves, like an old flame. She may have jumped ship years ago and dangled a raunchy renaissance more than once, but she is still alive, the beauty of her prime.

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“Samcro had a valid excuse there,” opined the Racing Post’s deputy editor in Ireland. “His Mammy wasn’t around last night to tuck him into bed and read him The Gruffalo. He’ll be back to himself in no time. Stay loyal.”

Word from the camp was that it was ‘house private’ in Cullentra. Eddie O’Leary says they will check him out but he says there were no excuses.

Gordon Elliott obviously adores Samcro and, having visited the yard recently, he does not monopolise the idolation there. I wonder, however, did he embrace his feed this morning and sense the bewilderment that must now prevail.

Samcro cantered all over Fakir D’oudaries at Fairyhouse, only to tumble two out. He travelled better than Faugheen yesterday, but once he jumped the second last he stopped to nothing; indeed at one stage I thought he might not even get over the second-last.

However, his Racing Post Rating (157) was a mere 4lb below the best he achieved over hurdles. Several horses yesterday travelled well into the straight at Limerick and quickly bottomed out on what was predictably atrocious ground after a really wet winter in the west.

Samcro is now 20/1 for the Arkle in March. His jumping was better at Limerick and, with the Arkle looking a particularly ordinary renewal right now, and Samcro appearing to me as if he will relish a strongly-run two miles if he gets there, at least have a think about it.

Another for the Arkle: Melon looked to hate the ground at Leopardstown on Friday but he jumped like a pro. The former Supreme and Champion Hurdle second (twice) is somehow 14/1 now, but he will be miles better on better ground. He comes alive at Cheltenham, often after running crap elsewhere.

Incidentally, Duc De Genievres won the Arkle in a canter last year, a horse that couldn’t get near Samcro over hurdles when the world seemed at his feet. They might be running out of excuses with Samcro, but I’m giving him one more chance.

Get your Saturday off to a good start by backing Jon Snow (12.15) in Saturday’s opener, a really promising sort. And Canardier can prevail in the Ballymaloe Foods Beginners Steeplechase (1.25).

Speaking of Jon Snow, on a visit to Willie Mullins’ last year, accompanied by a racing fan suffering from a debilitating illness, Mullins showed his class by giving us well over an hour of his time, speaking candidly about racing and life.

There were humorous moments, such as when the work rider of an unknown horse gushed about “the machine” underneath, prompting a smiling Mullins to caution against her saying too much before the curious visitors.

It transpired that the nag was Jon Snow, a winner in France. He was beaten on his Irish hurdling debut, albeit shaping well.

Time may prove the French work rider correct in her belief about Jon Snow. Time may redeem those who love Samcro too.

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Johnny Ward

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