Samcro caused jubilation on day three of the Cheltenham Festival with a belated return to top-class form. The chestnut, for whom such high expectations were held when he won a novice hurdle here two years ago, pulled off a battling victory in the Marsh Chase, edging out Melon on the line.
His owner, Michael O’Leary, memorably tried to calm the hype around Samcro by declaring he was “not the second coming of Jesus Christ” but the crowd’s reaction here suggests the horse has lost none of his charisma. He was returned at just 4-1, short odds for one whose winning record was so weak in recent seasons.
“He hasn’t been scoping clean and it’s been hard to get him to scope right,” said the winning trainer, Gordon Elliott. “We’ve done a lot of different things, like building him a new stable, and he’s pulled it off today.
“Everyone was knocking him, saying this and saying that. I probably even lost a bit of faith in him myself, but the horses are flying and I just can’t believe it.”
Lisnagar Oscar caused a 50-1 shock in the Stayers Hurdle, to the bafflement of most punters. Paisley Park, regarded as the banker bet of the meeting for many, was in trouble from a long way out and could finish only seventh.
While the racing here has been dominated by the powerhouse stables of Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliott, the Stayers provided a welcome change of pace, victory falling to Rebecca Curtis, who trains on the Welsh coast. Curtis was flying high with four Festivals wins from 2012 to 2015 but has since gone out of fashion.
This was a first Festival victory for the jockey Adam Wedge, who told ITV: “Unbelievable. Fantastic. The little horse has tried his heart out. I couldn’t believe it when I hit the front. He’s fought like a little lion up that hill.”
Lisnagar Oscar had not actually won a race for more than a year but he had plenty of useful form in the book and was beaten just four lengths by Paisely Park here in January. Curtis suggested he may have been suffering from ulcers when running below form in the autumn.
Apple’s Jade set out to make this a searching test in first-time blinkers, with Richard Johnson aboard for the first time. The enigmatic mare was clear of the field until the final downhill run, when a large number of rivals came to make their challenge.
But, while some faltered after the home turn, it was Lisnagar Oscar who stayed on best. Ronald Pump at 20-1 and Bacardys at 33-1 completed a sweep of the places for the outsiders.