CONSIDERING he gave both Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead a significant headstart this season, it’s remarkable that Gordon Elliott now splits that pair in the trainers’ championship and lies just over €300,000 behind Mullins.
It’s true that the 15-time champion is set to get his battalion rolling this weekend but Elliott isn’t thinking about being champion trainer this year. It’s all about rebuilding for the future. Big investment from big operations such as Bective Stud, Caldwells Construction, Robcour and KTDA Racing have allowed him to plan accordingly and we’re already starting to see the results with a number of smart young horses emerging from Cullentra.
This week, in his first press Zoom call since his return, Elliott was in good form, reflecting on his comeback and looking ahead to a busy Christmas period.
Racing Post Novice Chase (Grade 1)
This is the plan for Riviere D’Etel. We have her in at Navan this Saturday and all being well she’ll go from there to this Grade 1 where she’ll be getting all the allowances as a four-year-old. She jumps very well. I think when she was a juvenile, she was just a bit buzzy and she wanted to get from A to B very quick, but she’s a bit more settled over a fence.
I thought she was very good the last day in Punchestown. She backed off over her fences very well and Denis O’Regan was very good on her. She is growing the whole time and she’s turning into a real big mare. The Arkle is a long way away and we’ll get through Navan and then Christmas first but if she did go well in this race, of course you’d have to be thinking of that kind of target.
We have Buddy Rich in here and he has done well for us but I think I’m going to give him a break now.
Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2)
I’d imagine Fil Dor will go here. He might get an entry at Chepstow on the same week but I imagine we’ll keep him at home. It’s a great race, we’ve been lucky in it for the last few years. He was only having the third run of his life at Fairyhouse last Sunday and the one thing I love about him is the way he switches off and races behind the bridle. There’s always plenty in the tank. Davy gave him one little flick on Sunday and he won hands and heels. He won snug and he’s an exciting juvenile hurdler for us.
Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase (Grade 1)
We’ve got Samcro in here and I think this is where we’ll aim him. He’s in good form but he has just been very, very hard to train and had more than his fair share of problems. If I’m being honest he might not be what he was in his earlier days but he’s good form and there is plenty more prize money to be picked up with him. He’s still a lovely horse to have around the place.
We’ve got Battleoverdoyen in here as well but I’d imagine we’ll look at something else for him.
Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)
We’re hoping to run both Three Stripe Life and Mighty Potter. Davy Russell just thought the ground might be a bit tight for Three Stripe Life so we took him out of the Royal Bond on Sunday. He got very strong during the summer. He jumps very well and he has improved an awful lot from his first run. I was looking forward to running him in the Royal Bond to be honest but not to worry, we’ll aim him at Christmas now.
I think you’ll see a different Mighty Potter in this race. A faster gallop will suit him, it was a very messy race on Sunday. Our lad was a bit keen and not very professional but he’ll learn from it.
It was just his second run over hurdles and just the third run of his life. It was a good performance I thought. I think he’s a very good horse. He won a maiden hurdle in Down Royal but it wasn’t the strongest race in the world and he didn’t even have to come off the bridle so he’ll have learned a lot from yesterday.
Paddy Power Chase
We’ve got plenty of options and we’ll have a better idea closer to the time. If I had to mention two at this moment, I’d say The Bosses Oscar and Mortal.
The Bosses Oscar would be having his first run in a handicap chase and could just end up improving again. I thought Mortal ran very well at Navan. We’re bringing him over to Cheltenham to have a look around the Cross Country course at the December meeting and I’ll bring him back for the Paddy Power then, all being well.
Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1)
I’m going to step Abacadabras up to three miles. Just looking at his run in the Hatton’s Grace, I thought he was a bit lacklustre. He never got into the race to be honest and I thought it was a very funny race. For a horse that always travelled well over two miles, for me he was very sleepy. He had a good blow after so I think he’ll come on plenty for the run.
In truth he’s probably not going to be good enough to beat Honeysuckle in a Champion Hurdle so I think it’s worth a shot over this trip. If he does stay, his best chance at Cheltenham will be the Stayers’ Hurdle and we can find that out here.
I’ll probably run Sire Du Berlais here as well. He always runs his race. He could be behind the bridle going to the first but he’s made of steel. He was placed in a Stayers’ Hurdle and he was second in this race last year. I’m looking forward to running him. The easier the ground the better chance he’d have.
Savills Chase (Grade 1)
I was very happy with Delta Work in Down Royal. Anyone who knows the horse will know he always takes a run, just to leave him right. He never really does anything flashy at home but he’s in good form and the plan is to go for the Savills. He has a good record at Leopardstown and Jack Kennedy gets on better with him than anyone else, so we’re hoping he’ll be back in time to ride him.
Galvin will probably run as well and I think he can hunt away and then be there to pick up the pieces. He’s probably stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment because whether he’s Grade 1 material, I don’t know. He ran well in Down Royal but this will be a bigger test. The plan is to go to the Savills and we’ll look forward to the rest of the season after that.
Neville Hotels Novice Chase (Grade 1)
I’m thinking Run Wild Fred for this. He went up 14lbs for winning in Navan so that takes him to mark of 159 which is a fair standard for a novice chaser at this stage of the season. He’s very straightforward and he’ll love the ground, there’s going to be no complications as he can bounce out and make the running but if someone wants to go faster than him, all the better.
Gars De Sceaux and Fakir D’Alene, they’re two horses we haven’t even got to run yet because we’ve been waiting on rain and so we could be tight on time for then so we’ll play it by ear and see what happens.
Matheson Hurdle (Grade 1)
We’ve got Teahupoo, Zanahiyr and Petit Mouchoir. Teahupoo might go down to Limerick for the four-year-olds’ race there, we’re keeping options open, but I think you’ll definitely see Zanahiyr and Petit Mouchoir.
I thought Davy Russell could have made more use of Zanahiyr in the Morgiana, the race turned into a bit of a cat-and-mouse contest. But he ran well and it was probably a career best. Hopefully he won’t have to take on Honeysuckle and we’d be hopeful of another improved run.
Teahupoo was very good at Naas and he’s gotten very strong. I wasn’t at Fairyhouse when he got beat last season but a lot of good judges told me he looked a bit empty in the parade ring and maybe moving over to Cullentra earlier in the season had just taken its toll on him.
It is a hard season for four-year-olds. It’s hard to place them to be honest, there’s not that many races for them. We’ll probably take our time through the early part of the season and hopefully you might see the best of them later on in the season. Zanahiyr might go out in trip later on.
GORDON Elliott has plenty to look forward to in the next few weeks as he allows some of his promising young horses to take the next step of their careers.
One potential star of the future is Saint Felicien, an ultra-smooth winner of his novice hurdle at Gowran Park. The four-year-old son of Saint Des Saints is owned by Robcour and arrived from France with a big reputation. His novice status is set to expire because he won in Auteuil last March, but it’s not difficult to imagine him developing into a major contender for a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham or indeed or a dark one for the Champion Hurdle.
“I like him, he’s a very smart horse,” Elliott said. “We’ll look at the Limerick four-year-olds-only race but we’ll have to split him up with Teahupoo as they are both owned by Brian Acheson. There’s a race on New Year’s Eve in Punchestown, a winners-of-two conditions hurdle, over two miles and three furlongs. I’m thinking of going there and if he came through that well, we could look at something like the Red Mills with him after that.”
Elliott has typically aimed his best novice hurdler at the Lawlors of Naas Novice Hurdle at Naas in early January having won it for three of last five years with Death Duty, Battleoverdoyen and Envoi Allen.
It looks like he’ll have a strong hand this year with the option open for the Bective Stud trio of Hollow Games, Gringo D’Aubrelle and Ginto.
“Hollow Games will go straight to Naas,” Elliott confirmed. “We were happy with him at Navan, he won very nicely. Gringo D’Aubrelle will have an entry as well but we could keep him for the Grade 1 over two miles and six furlongs at the Dublin Racing Festival.
“He’s a nice horse. He wants to win, he puts his head out and he’s got a nice attitude which I love about the horse. He’s very laid-back at home, doesn’t take a hold of the bridle but loves jumping and he’s always there when you want him at the end.”
For the same owners, there is also lots of optimism around the prospects of impressive Down Royal scorer American Mike and Elliott has pencilled in a listed bumper at Navan for him.
“American Mike is in very good form,” he confirmed. “He’ll go to Navan for a listed bumper on December 18th. We got a bit of a blow when Jamie Codd got a five-day suspension on Sunday so we’ll have to see who rides him. He’s only won a bumper in Down Royal but a lot of the good judges tell me he did a very good time. He’s shown us the right signs at home but there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge yet.”
Jockeys: Jack and Jordan
Both of them are hoping to be back by Christmas. They’re two great young fellas and I’m looking forward to having them back. Both of them are in the yard every week so we’re really missing them at the moment. All being well they’ll be back at Christmas.
Jack has had a bad run but anyone that knows him, they’ll know that this won’t phase him. He’s a top-class jockey and he’s all these horses to come back and ride. I’m hoping he’ll be with me for a long time.
He goes to Aintree for the Grade 2 on Saturday. He’ll go on to the Boyne Hurdle and he’ll go to the Cross Country then. He probably isn’t what he was but if we can get him back to win another cross country race it’ll be a dream come true. He’s a horse of a lifetime.
If you’re going to dream, you’d love to think you could go back and win a third Grand National, but the stats don’t lie. By April it will be three years since he even ran in a Grand National. It’s not going to be any easier for him, he’s not getting any younger and to be honest, if you ask me, I’d just love to win another Cross Country race in Cheltenham.
I think that could bring the roof down in Cheltenham. Looking at Cheltenham this year, Tiger Roll winning was one of the proudest moments I ever had training racehorses. He’s just a little superstar and I’m very lucky to have him.
Reception for his return
The racing public are great. Since the first couple of days we went back racing, we were clapped into the parade ring. It’s great to be back. You meet brilliant people racing. For me, Navan last week and Fairyhouse this week, the atmosphere was just fantastic.
You could see over the last two seasons just how much a difference the crowd makes at the races. It would put hairs on the back of your neck watching the crowd. The reception Honeysuckle got was unbelievable. It was something to be proud of. Anyone that knows me knows that I love nothing more than going racing and training winners. I go racing most days, I love it. I never took it for granted, I couldn’t wait to get back to be honest.
Being champion trainer
It is always something I dreamed about but sometimes you take things for granted, with what happened to me last year. There’s bigger things happening in the world and there’s bigger problems than me not being champion trainer. Of course I’d love to be champion one day and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, but at the moment it’s all about regrouping, repaying all my staff and my owners who have been loyal to me. That’s all I want.