Coming up on Sunday at Punchestown is the Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle, which carries €100,000 in prize-money. When the Morgiana arrives, you are left in no doubt that the jumping season is clicking into gear.
It’s a race that Willie Mullins has won for the last seven years, but one that Gordon Elliott has yet to win. On Sunday, his Champion Hurdle hope Samcro will bid to put that record straight.
To recap on Samcro, he was one of last season’s star novice hurdlers, winning the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, although he ended his campaign with a fall at Punchestown.
— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) March 14, 2018
Many expected him to go chasing this season but he’s been kept to hurdles – at least for now. His return this season in that sphere didn’t exactly go to plan as he finished second to Bedrock in Down Royal’s Grade 2 WKD Hurdle.
Gordon didn’t seem too perturbed by that run and told the press afterwards that they would see a different horse next time. We arrive at that time.
To be fair, it’s no secret that jumps trainers have delayed working their horses on grass this season owing to the ongoing dry spell. This, though, is beginning to change and the real Samcro will surely arrive at Punchestown on Sunday.
So might Willie Mullins’ Melon and last season’s Cheltenham Champion Hurdle runner-up would represent a tough opponent. That said, on Thursday it was looking like he might miss the race but that last year’s winner, Faugheen, also trained by Willie, would be lining up.
Another stablemate Sharjah, who finished third in the WKD Hurdle, five lengths behind Samcro when in receipt of eight pounds, could also be in the field, as could Jessica Harrington’s Irish Champion Hurdle and Punchestown Champion Hurdle winner from last season, Supersundae.
Many of the main Morgiana entries also hold an entry for the half-mile further baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on December 2nd. It’s a nice alternative option to have.
As with Sunday’s Morgiana Hurdle, that race looks like being one to savour and will probably provide further evidence that the jumping season is beginning to take shape.
Punchestown race on Saturday and Sunday this week.
Saturday’s features are the €44,500 Grade 2 Betway Craddockstown Novice ‘Chase and the €30,000 Listed Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle, while, along with the Morgiana Hurdle, Sunday’s card will contain the €44,500 Grade 2 Liam and Valerie Brennan Memorial Florida Pearl Novice ‘ Chase, the €26,000 Irish Daily Mirror Handicap Hurdle and the €26,000 Ryans Cleaning Handicap ‘Chase.
Sunday’s card opens at 12:05pm with the EMS Copiers Risk Of Thunder Chase, named after the seven-time Punchestown La Touche Cup winner that was owned by actor Sean Connery.
The card closes at 3:55pm with the Mervyn Gray Construction Pro/Am Bumper (for four-year-olds). Guess who won it in 2016? Samcro.