Cheltenham Festival

Will Samcro Justify Hot-Pot Status in Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle?

The Cheltenham Festival is finally upon us, although there are trainers having sleepless nights on account of late injury scares and a fair bit of yo-yoing going on.

Altior has been favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase ever since his majestic win in last year’s Arkle Challenge Trophy, but he was reported to be lame on Monday by his trainer Nicky Henderson.

Henderson, his vet and farrier will work around the clock in a bid to get Altior to the start line on Wednesday and despite the trainer stating his charge was sound on Tuesday, it’s a far from ideal scenario and a watching brief is advised.

Douvan could be forgiven for feeling a little dizzy, as he’s been in and out of more markets in the past 48 hours than Stan the Fishmonger.

The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old was set for the Champion Chase, only for connections to reroute to the Ryanair Chase – before another U-turn saw him confirmed for the Champion Chase.

If anywhere near his best he would be a huge danger to even a fully fit Altior, but until he’s stood at the start line with a jockey on board there’s no way you can take a punt after the turn of events of the past couple of days.

Turning to one horse whose target has always been fixed is Samcro. The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, the opening heat on day two, has been Samcro’s target since the start of the season and Gordon Elliott’s charge is the banker of the Festival for many.

Whether he is the greatest since Arkle, only time will tell but he’s looked high class in his three hurdle outings so far this term. His form is red hot, particularly his cruise in the Grade One Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, he looks adaptable as regards to tactics and has an accurate way of jumping.

It’s little surprise he’s an odds-on shot, 188BET have him priced up at 8/11, but a note of caution is that this is the first time since 1995 that a Cheltenham Festival has been run with the word heavy in the going description. Samcro has already proved well suited to testing going, that’s not the concern, it’s that the 1995 Festival saw a number of shocks and on such ground it’s not unheard of for long shots to overturn apparent good things.

Samcro may prove a cut above his rivals, National Hunt fans would certainly hope so as champions are lauded in the sport, but it would not come as the biggest surprise were a shock to be sprung.