GORDON Elliott has finished second to Willie Mullins in the trainers’ championship for the last 10 seasons in a row but the Meath man is arguably as far away as ever from his dream of becoming champion.
That is no slight on him but more a nod to the strength of arms currently at Closutton and truth be told, if Willie really fancied it, he could probably mount a serious challenge for the British trainers’ championship too. But, it won’t stop Elliott from trying.
Einstein once described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It seems like there has been a change of tact with a view to the season-long strategy at Cullentra, starting horses off a little slower, with the overall aim of being in a stronger position come Punchestown, where traditionally Willie Mullins goes into wipe-out mode.
This strategy is borne out in Elliott’s statistics in the early parts of this season.
If you go back to 2015, his winners in the month of October every year until last year have been as follows: 19, 29, 21, 18, 20, 36, 22. This year he sent out just 11 winners in October, his lowest total since 2013. However he finished up November with 37 winners, his highest ever total in that month.
“We went a bit different this season,” Elliott replied when asked if the stats were consequential. “We tried to start them off a bit slower and not be as hard as them early, to let them come on a bit from their first runs, and see if they can last a little bit longer in the season.
“Just for the last three or four weeks, we’ve been running on red for the last couple of seasons, so I just said I’d start them off a little bit slower this season.”
It will be interesting to see how this plays out when we get to Punchestown but in the more immediate term, could it lead to a stronger Christmas Festival return for Elliott? Well, he has been strong enough at Leopardstown already. He has sent out 25 winners at the four-day festival over the last five seasons, with 12 of those wins coming in the Grade 1s.
Needless to say, he has another strong team prepping for the biggest races at the meeting. Here, he reveals his plans.
Brand New Racing Post App Novice Chase (Grade 1)
I thought Fil Dor jumped very well at Navan. I loved the way he attacked his fences. He always looked like he was going to be a chaser and he looks like he has got stronger with a bit of summer grass. This race is perfect timing for him, he’ll get an allowance and it’s a nice option. Hollow Games looked good over fences on his first try at Navan and we went back to that course this morning (Monday) and he jumped very well again. I might have been running him over the wrong distance last year. I was trying to make him a stayer, looking at ‘two-six’ and three miles for him but with the way he won over ‘two-one’ in Navan the last day, that might just be his trip. We’ll probably go to Navan on Saturday week and then on to Leopardstown for this race.
Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase (Grade 1)
I thought Andy Dufresne ran alright for his comeback run in the Fortria Chase at Navan. Rachael got a bit of a freebie in front (on Captain Guinness) - the lads let her go and she was very clever. Our lad will come on from that run and I’d say he’ll go for this. Riviere D’Etel was disappointing (ran in listed mares’ chase at Carlisle) and we’re going to get her checked out this week. She will go to Gerry Kelly’s for a full MOT. She was sound this morning but we’ll get everything checked and make a plan then. Whether she’ll be ready for Leopardstown, I don’t know.
Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)
Before Absolute Notions ran in the Land Rover Bumper, he hadn’t done a lot of work, but what he had done, he was doing well and that is why we let him take his chance. He wasn’t our number one hope in the race but he was very, very good. I loved the way he hit the line and he did the same in his maiden hurdle back at Punchestown. I’d say he’s a good horse. I’d imagine, looking at that, you could step him up in trip. Whether he goes for this race, I’m not sure.
It’s back to the drawing board with American Mike. He wasn’t right after his race at Navan. We’ll give him a few easy weeks and see how we are then. It was disappointing but he’s a very, very good horse. He’d have pulled up with another furlong yesterday. We know what the problem is and we’ve just got to iron that out.
Amir Kabir could run here. He was very good at Listowel. He got a little cut after that race so he missed a bit of work. He’s a nice horse. Imagine could go here. He’s a good horse. He might have won had he jumped the last better at Gowran on Saturday but I think the winner (Inothewayurthinkin) could be very good as well. Irish Point looks good and we like him a lot. He does everything very nicely. He has a bit of boot and a bit of speed. Itswhatunitesus won a good maiden hurdle at Cork. He is very highly strung and not easy to train but I imagine he could go here. His owner would like to have a runner at Leopardstown.
Paddy Power Chase
We’ll run them all if we can (11 entries). It’s a great pot - a €110,000 race. Frontal Assault could be the one to follow. He’s a heavy enough horse and Jack said he had a blow (after the Troytown on Sunday). I’m not sure the trainer had him 100% right. He’ll come on from the run.
Jack de Bromhead Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1)
Zanahiyr has had a wind operation since Navan (finished seventh in Lismullen Hurdle) and we’d hope to have him back for this. Sire Du Berlais could run again. He has been unbelievable. He’s a gentleman of a horse around the yard, any one of the kids could ride him. He shows absolutely zero at home but always seems to come good in the spring so look out for him then.
Look out for Queen’s Brook here. I might step her up in trip. She is so hard to keep fit but she is very good on the track and could be one to follow. Commander Of Fleet throws in a good run every year. He might have five bad runs but then he will pop up with a very good one. He could easily do that again this season but I’m not sure when it is going to be.
Savills Chase (Grade 1)
I was very happy with Conflated at Down Royal. He had a good blow and he will come on an awful lot for the run. This will be his next target. He surprised a lot of people in the Irish Gold Cup last year and he probably surprised me a little bit as well. I didn’t know he was that good but he proved to be a fair horse on his day. Three miles, Leopardstown and decent ground is what he wants.
Galvin scoped dirty after his race in Down Royal but he’s back in good nick now and he’ll go to the Savills as well, which he won well last year. He’s got a big heart. He finished fourth in the Gold Cup and he probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Fury Road hasn’t battled like he did at Down Royal for a while (won Grade 2 Eventsec Chase). He always seemed to be a bit of a bridle horse but he put his head down and he galloped to the line. Good ground and Leopardstown will suit him as well.
Neville Hotels Novice Chase (Grade 1)
Minella Crooner could go here. I think three miles will suit him. He ran well on his first start over fences in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl and he has some good form at Leopardstown last year as well. Gerri Colombe would only come here if the ground came up very soft but I can’t see that happening. He’s a very nice horse - the three miles would be made for him on soft ground.
Matheson Hurdle (Grade 1)
Pied Piper will go for this. He is two from two over hurdles but he’s going to have to improve again to get to Grade 1 level. He has got a little stronger so that bodes well. We’ll see how he measures up. We’ll wait to see how the ground is for Teahupoo. We probably made the mistake of running him on good ground last season. He’s not the biggest horse but he’s just so effective on soft ground.