Gordon Elliott hates to admit he was disappointed leaving Cheltenham last year. He doesn’t want to sound selfish because he had two winners and he knows how hard it is for trainers, owners and jockeys to get on the board.
But still, you’d understand if he was disappointed. He went into the Festival last year with his biggest ever team and with a burning desire to repay the faith shown to him by his loyal owners, team of staff and friends after a period of turmoil in his career and life.
At one Navan preview night, his charity bet was a Super Heinz with seven of his best chances. Cheltenham was huge for him and he went into the meeting confident of a big four days.
Of course the two winners he had were good, both for Gigginstown, but they came outside of the Grade 1s, Commander Of Fleet in the Coral Cup and Delta Work led home Tiger Roll in a memorable Cross Country Chase.
The seconds were pleasing as well, but galling at the same time. Queens Brook in the Mares Hurdle, Run Wild Fred in the National Hunt Chase, Three Stripe Life in the Ballymore, Andy Dufresne in the Grand Annual, American Mike in the Champion Bumper, Fil Dor in the Triumph. Plus there was the late falls of Conflated in the Ryanair and Farouk D’Alene in the Brown Advisory. And most disappointingly of all was the sad loss of Ginto in the Albert Bartlett.
So you’d forgive Elliott for being disappointed.
This time around the Cullentra House handler seems a little more laid back about his approach. A change in tack this season saw him start a little slower, with the main aim to be in peak form for the spring targets.
He didn’t have a massive team for the Dublin Racing Festival but his main hope, Mighty Potter, won and the day before Gerri Colombe took the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown, which like Mighty Potter, was his second top level score of the season. Those two are favourites for their main Festival targets, the Turners Novice Chase and Brown Advisory Novice Chase, respectively. Elliott also has Delta Work back for the Cross Country, Teahupoo for the Stayers’ Hurdle and a host of handicappers who he feels are “under the radar”.
Gerri Colombe is a seven-year-old, while Mighty Potter and Teahupoo are still only six, so the scope is there for them to become regular fixtures at the Festival.
“Most of the horses have probably had their last runs now, so we’re picking and choosing where to go,” Elliott said.
“We’ve got a nice bunch, with a few going under the radar, I think, so it’s exciting and I can’t wait to get over.
“We’ve probably started the season as easy as we’ve ever been to our horses. A lot needed their runs first time out, but we’re getting there now.
“We’ve a good bunch of horses and it is exciting times. We’ve got some nice bumper horses, as well as novice hurdlers and chasers as well.”
It seems likely that a decision on whether Jack Kennedy can ride at the Festival will go right to the wire. The Kerryman sustained another broken leg from a fall at Naas in early January. He was 18 winners clear of Paul Townend in the race to be champion jockey, so it was a savage blow to both him and Elliott.
Davy Russell has since come out of retirement and has vowed to step away as soon as Kennedy is fit and ready but whether that will be before or after the Festival is still 50-50.
“I’d say Jack would want to have some rides on the Saturday or Sunday before Cheltenham,” Elliott said.
“You’d think if he isn’t able to do that, he probably won’t be ready for the Tuesday. I’d say Davy will be over (at Cheltenham) riding each morning and, should Jack not be available, he’ll be ready.
“I haven’t even had the conversation with Davy to be honest - at the moment we’re looking at Jack being back. Jack has been luckless but he’s only 23 years of age and to have achieved what he has is amazing. He’s been racing with us since his injury, and he’s got a great attitude and he’s so laid back.”
Unibet Champion Hurdle
I thought both my horses ran very well in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Pied Piper had a fibrillating heart at Christmas and was beaten after three hurdles. I though he ran a good race on his comeback from that and I thought Zanahiyr ran well also.
Zanahiyr had been mostly running over further last season but he wasn’t a million miles away from the best over hurdles last term. Look, the pair of them have plenty to find. Pied Piper is a horse we could go back on the flat with. It’s just difficult for those five-year-olds in their first season in open company but Pied Piper did well at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Irish Point could run here. I’d say he wants a trip. If you watch his race back from Leopardstown (fourth to Il Etait Temps), he was actually closest at the line. He jumped well but he was flat out the whole way, they went a very good gallop in fairness. His form before that is very good - he was second in two good Grade 1s at Fairyhouse and Naas. He’ll step up in trip but I might not even run him, to be honest, unless it comes up very soft.
Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
I think the further Gerri Colombe goes the better he’ll be. He’s a very unassuming horse and he wouldn’t be very exciting at home, but he knows how to win. I loved that when the horse passed him the other day at Sandown he dropped his head and it’s a great thing to see.
It was a big jumping test but he got into a beautiful rhythm. He is not a mudlark, he might just need soft ground over that two-and-a-half mile trip but over the three miles in the Brown Advisory, he’ll be grand on decent ground. He’s a gorgeous horse, he’s a big-old fashioned chaser and he was fine travelling to England the other day. He’ll go straight there now.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase
I was delighted with Delta Work’s run at Cheltenham, I think he was giving the winner (Back On The Lash) 16lb and the runner-up (Deise Aba) 18lb so, off level weights, he looks thrown in and he’ll improve plenty for that.
He was the villain last year! It would have been the perfect send off for Tiger Roll but it wasn’t to be and he got a great reception anyway, so it was nice to see. We’ll go here and then look at the Grand National
Weatherbys Champion Bumper
Better Days Ahead will go straight to Cheltenham now. John Kiely’s horse (A Dream To Share) was impressive the other day but the bumper horses in Ireland are maybe not as strong as they have been. My horse is a good horse.
Kings Of Kingsfield will run in it, as will the horse who won at Leopardstown (Pour Les Filles). We should have three in the race.
If going for the Bumper isn’t the right thing to do we won’t do it, they need a good attitude to go for it. It’s a race we won with Envoi Allen and Fayonagh – and I had a strong part to play in Sir Gerhard too – and it’s not a race for every horse.
No Time To Wait looked a good horse at Down Royal and will be entered in the race but I’m not sure whether it would be the right thing to do at this stage of his career.
Turners Novices’ Chase
Mighty Potter has been relaxing and jumping great in all of his races so far. It’s only when you watch his replays back that you realise how good he’s been. He was only getting into top gear as the race was over at Leopardstown, so it was a nice performance. He’s a big horse now but he was every bit as big last year and quite gangly. If you look at the re-run of the Supreme last year he just never got into a rhythm, I think he landed on top of one of his hurdles and once he’s done that it was ‘race over’.
He’s an unassuming type of horse and it wouldn’t frighten me dropping him back to two miles if I had to, but at the moment we’re going for middle distance races. If Gerri was going for the middle distance races we might’ve dropped him back in trip but that’s the way we’re going.
We’ve had a few nice novices over the last few years but I’d say he’s bang up there, he’s exciting. Leopardstown was an easier watch the second time around. When you see five of Willie’s either side of you, it wasn’t an easy watch!
He’s got so much talent that everything is almost too easy for him at home, so I’d say he learned an awful lot at Fairyhouse in December.
I would say Teahupoo was taken off his feet over two miles last year. He’s not a big, heavy horse but I don’t see why he wouldn’t be alright over three miles. It’s not going to be very quick ground and, if you listen to Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty over the years talking about Stayers’ Hurdle horses, you have to be behind the pace and relax. That’s exactly how Teahupoo is and nothing fazes him.
It’s probably the most open of the championship races, especially as Gavin Cromwell’s horse (Flooring Porter) is only 50-50 to get there.
He was very good at Fairyhouse (winning the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle) and the form is working out. He wouldn’t impress you at home, but he seems to do it on the track.
I’d say if you look at his runs at Cheltenham and Punchestown last year he was just swept off his feet over two miles – we were trying to make him a quicker horse and he just isn’t. He looks like he’s really found his niche over the longer trips. At Fairyhouse he was doing his best work at the finish and he was very good over three miles the last day (Galmoy Hurdle, Gowran).
I thought we had a squeak in the Champion Hurdle last season, but he was just taken off his feet, but he relaxes really well in his races and that lets him stay three miles.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Three Card Brag will probably go for this, as will Favori De Champdou. Cool Survivor ran well the other day, but we might look at the Martin Pipe with him. Absolute Notions doesn’t look as though he’ll be badly handicapped so we could look at something for him too.
Unfortunately we couldn’t run American Mike at the Dublin Racing Festival. He scoped bad after Navan the last day as there was something wrong with him, so we’ve missed a little part of the season. I was looking forward to running him the other day but we couldn’t run him for personal reasons. He is similar to Three Card Brag, in that they don’t show much at home and are very laid back. They keep all their best work at the track and are two big chasers in the making. I’d imagine both will go for the Albert Bartlett – if the race was tomorrow that’s what they’d be going for.
Favori De Champdou won well at Limerick on heavy ground and that would bring him into it. It looks a good renewal this year.
Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup
Conflated can run well fresh, and I thought it may suit him to go to the Gold Cup fresh and well. I probably ran him in the wrong race last year (in the Ryanair Chase) but the way he ran at Aintree (when second in last season’s Betway Bowl) and at Leopardstown over Christmas (when winning the Grade 1 Savills Chase in December) suggests that this is his trip.
He’s a good horse and he’s actually settled down a lot in the past year or so. He wasn’t straightforward but he’s a lot more professional and you can ride a race on him - the race used to be over before you could put him into it. I think it’s an open Gold Cup and we’ve got a chance. I think the extra couple of furlongs will suit us better, to be honest. If you look at the way he stayed at Leopardstown I think he’s made for it.
I suppose that the fact Fury Road led over the last (in the Irish Gold Cup) would give me a lot of hope that Conflated can run a good race. Galopin Des Champs sets the standard and he’s the horse we all have to beat but I think we’re in the mix.
I thought, watching the replay, that Galopin was actually more impressive than on first look. Paul (Townend) had him asleep and it took a little while for him to wake up but he picked up well and crossed the line well. We’re in the mix but I wouldn’t mind having him!
This article is taken from The Irish Field Cheltenham Magazine 2023. CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY