Samcro can bounce back to best in Faugheen duel
Limerick have stolen the Boxing Day thunder from Leopardstown for the second year running, with Samcro and Faugheen primed for a mouth-watering clash in today's Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase (2.40).
This time last year saw Ruby Walsh ride at the Patrickswell track for the first time since 1996 when partnering Getabird in the Grade One contest, and all eyes will be on Limerick once again for an intriguing duel between two of the biggest names in jumps racing.
Samcro was considered one of the budding racing superstars after a novice hurdle season which included a bloodless victory in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, but Gordon Elliott's charge was beaten on each of his three starts last season.
It was a truly underwhelming campaign for a potential superstar, which ended just after Christmas when he was diagnosed with a deep-seated lung infection, but the Meath trainer feels he has rediscovered his old spark, with a switch to fences bringing out something like his best.
A specifically-built stable at his Cullentra yard, which allows the seven-year-old to venture outside at his leisure, and the regular use of a nubulizer seems to have worked the trick.
It was notable that Samcro looked much more like his old self when making a successful chasing debut at Down Royal last month.
A grandstand finish with Fakir D'oudairies was in store in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse this month before Samcro parted ways with Jack Kennedy two out when looking a likely winner, and Elliott hasn't lost faith in his ability since then.
"Samcro had lots of options over Christmas but this looked the right race for him - the trip suits him well and he will have no trouble with the ground. It was a pity what happened at Fairyhouse as he was going very well when he came down," Elliott wrote in his Betfair blog.
"But so too was Joseph O'Brien's horse (Fakir D'oudairies) and it's a pure guessing game as to what would have happened had he stood up. All I know is that I'm much happier with Samcro this season.
"He seems a much happier and healthier horse since we changed a few things around.
"At home he shows me that he is back to where he was as a novice hurdler and I couldn't be happier with him going into this race.
"He is working well and seems very well in himself, so hopefully he will take plenty of beating. It's been a while since he won a Grade One, but I haven't lost any faith in him and it would be great to him back winning another big race."
Compensation should await for Samcro but it won't come without a fight as the Willie Mullins-trained Faugheen can count nine Grade One victories among his 13 successes over the smaller obstacles, including his 2015 Champion Hurdle win.
Injury has interrupted his career in recent seasons and he was a late recruit to the chasing ranks as an 11-year-old - which will turn 12 next week - when he made a smart start to his career over fences at Punchestown last month.
There was one serious mistake along the way, but Faugheen - which will be ridden by the champion trainer's son Patrick as Paul Townend is otherwise occupied at Leopardstown - recovered with aplomb to score decisively.
A fully-fit Samcro should prove a bridge too far, however, in what should be a two-horse race, with the other six challengers not in the same league, and Kennedy can guide the son of Germany to his first Grade One win since that Cheltenham success 21 months ago.
There is a nice pre-appetiser in the Signsplus Hurdle (12.55), where only five go to post, with Mullins' Unexcepted facing off against Elliott's Easywork in an interesting battle.
French recruit Unexcepted was an easy winner on his Irish debut at Fairyhouse last month and sidestepped some high-profile entries over the Christmas period to take in this contest, so he is respected.
Easywork has lived up to his name on his two starts this season, with a comfortable bumper success at Down Royal last month followed up three weeks later with a smooth maiden hurdle success at Galway.
There should be little between them, with Unexpected slightly favoured.
Paul Nolan's Discorama - which finished second in the Martin Pipe at last year's Cheltenham Festival - reverts to the smaller obstacles having made great strides over fences, but may be caught for speed over 2m4f in a classy field.
An interesting side note also sees Tom Queally, who famously partnered Frankel to each of his 14 wins, switch codes, with the Waterford rider set for two rides over hurdles.