THE talking horse of this year's Festival, the Gordon Elliott-trained Samcro justified the hype with a scintillating performance in the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, the first race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival.
The 8/11 favourite was always well positioned throughout the two and a half mile contest and despite wandering towards the stands' side rail up the Cheltenham hill, the six-year-old son of Germany responded willingly to Jack Kennedy's urgings to score by two and three-quarter lengths over Tom George's Black Op (8/1) in second.
The Willie Mullins-trained Next Destination (4/1) stayed on strongly to finish a further five lengths behind in third.
Deemed the Irish banker of the week, there was plenty of pressure on Samcro and winning trainer Gordon Elliott was visibly delighted that he had lived up to the hype.
Elliott said: "With horses like this, there is lots of pressure on them delivering, but Samcro did it well and we can enjoy this now.
"We are very lucky to have him and I wouldn't be afraid to bring him back in trip. He has loads of pace and he only comes awake when the race starts to get going.
"Jack Kennedy said when got to the front, he pulled up again. It's great to have horses like this and I'm delighted for Michael O'Leary and all of our staff who work so hard.
"He's proved his class today and I do think he has the class and speed to stay over hurdles.
"Shane McCann rides Samcro out every day and knows him - he does all the work with him and I only train him. He does all the hard work. This is a big team effort that I have at home and it worked out great.
"There was a lot of pressure today - for Jack, for me and for the whole team - so I am delighted. He's a big idle devil and just does what he has to do."
"Michael likes having chasers so we'll have a chat before making any decision. He was bought to be a chaser but we'll talk about it.
"We had a rough day yesterday with Apple's Jade running below par and Mossback sadly losing his life, but in this game, you just have to pick your head up and go again."
A delighted Gordon Elliott
Winning owner Michael O'Leary commented: "That was a brilliant ride from Jack Kennedy - he had him in the right place the whole way round - and a brilliant training performance from Gordon. That gets Gordon on the board for today. It is wonderful.
"There is still too much hype, but at least he has won in Cheltenham and is going the right way."
Samcro is 4/1 with Betway for the 2019 Grade 1 RSA Chase and 16/1 for the 2019 Gold Cup. Paddy Power make Samcro 4/1 for the 2019 G1 JLT Novices' Chase.
Asked about his no-frills style, the 18-year-old said: "I don't know - it's just something that's in me. All the family are pretty laid-back. I didn't have any butterflies. I'm always happy to be on the best horse."
Now unbeaten in six races, 8/11 favourite Samcro won more or less as predicted by two and three-quarter lengths and five lengths from Black Op 8/1 and Next Destination (4/1).
Kennedy said: "The horse is very good - my only worry was whether any other horse would take me to the final hurdle, because he idles a bit in front. He's very relaxed and straightforward, but in the second half of the race horses can't lead him and he ends up in front too soon. He's a little bit lazy.
"I wasn't always happy with my position in the race, but that was my fault for being a little bit wide, and then I hit the front too soon, but it was okay in the end."
The jockey was beaten on odds-on Apples Jade in yesterday's OLBG Mares' Hurdle, although she was said to be in season. Kennedy said: "There was pressure today, but that comes with riding the best horse in the race - I definitely wouldn't change it. He keeps improving every time and who knows when he will stop.
"I have never ridden a [Timico] Gold Cup horse, so I would not know, but he is definitely a chaser in the making. I wouldn't mind what he does in future, but I would love to ride him over a fence. I've not ridden many good ones, but he's the best.
"Any Cheltenham Festival winner is great. I can't find the words to describe winning here, it's just great."
Black Op finished second in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, beaten two and three-quarter lengths by the winner, odds-on favourite Samcro.
Black Op, an 8/1 chance, was trained by Tom George, who is enjoying a great Festival so far with one winner (Summerville Boy, Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle), a second place (Black Op) and a third (Rocklander in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase).
George said: "I'm delighted. Black Op has bumped into an exceptional horse and he's the best this side of the Irish Sea, anyway! I'm very pleased with him and he's run a great race. I don't know if we will run him again this season; we'll have to see how he comes out of this.
"He has galloped all the way to the line and is going to make an unbelievable chaser next year. I think he has a big future. Roger Brookhouse has given me some lovely horses to train and we have two smashing horses in him and Summerville Boy.
"Noel [Fehily] said that he couldn't have changed anything and was beaten by a better horse on the day but he has put in a great run."
Jockey Noel Fehily said: "He ran a blinder and was beaten by a very good horse. If you'd said coming into the race that he would run that well and would only be beaten by Samcro, you'd have been happy."
Willie Mullins trained the third and fourth-placed horses, Next Destination, who was ridden by Ruby Walsh, and Scarpeta (Danny Mullins).
He said: "I haven't spoken to Ruby yet, but I wonder did Next Destination lose his action? He and Scarpeta have both run fantastic races, though. Scarpeta really stayed on and was just very unlucky to get chinned on the line by Ruby and Next Destination.
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Jack Madden who looks after Samcro watches him go to the last to win the Ballymore Novice Hurdle