Father from Fermanagh, his mother from Fiji neither a hurling stronghold said Michael O Muircheartaigh while lamenting a famous win for Cork hurlers in the All Ireland Final. The rebel in question was Sean óg Ó hAilpín who had come a long way from Fiji to the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift Liam McCarthy.
Passers-by of racing often comment that our great sport is one of elitism, land and money. A lazy observation, but one cannot argue that Gordon Elliot represents this view of Horse Racing. Gordon Elliot doesn’t come from a racing background, he is a proud Meath man but he has found himself within touching distance of becoming champion trainer in Ireland. Gordon’s father Pat was a mechanic and Gordon began his racing life as an amateur jockey. He wasn’t without success and he ended up with an excellent 46 winners on the track alone. Vitally, through his contact with the great Martin Pipe and Tony Martin his love for training was ignited, names he still checks as some of the greatest influences on him and in his career.
In 2006 I was still in school and unfortunately big national hunt meetings clash with school. But luckily for me my love for racing was aided by my father allowing me to skip an afternoon or two to watch Aintree and Cheltenham. But it wasn’t on a school day that Gordon Elliot first came to prominence but on the biggest racing Saturday of the year. Silver Birch won the grand national for Gordon in 2006, a day that changed his life and certainly racing in Ireland. A rare couch pundit that Saturday knew the name but ten years on they would sing his name after Don Cossack had won the Gold Cup under Bryan Cooper in Cheltenham. He hadn’t trained a winner in Ireland but had won the most prestigious handicap in National Hunt. From that year Gordon would almost double his winners year on year shooting him to the upper echelons of training tables.
Let’s take that into context, there are a numerous training operations in Ireland but not a lot if any make an incremental improvement on winners over ten years. In a year where we have seen some very high profile stables go out of business it surely is inspiring for any young aspiring trainer that it can be done. As Elliott’s success, has grown, so too has his operation, he now has around 150 horses in training and, between full and part-time staff, has about 60 people working for him at his base in Longwood, Co Meath. Gordon started by winning at tracks at home and in Britain that weren’t flashy. It is here that he began to increase his horses and owners. Chicago Grey was a brilliant winner for Gordon and with his first Cheltenham winner he was now entering the big leagues. Great trainers always mention the team within the stable and Gordon always namechecks his stable staff when talking about his wins. A stable can’t run on one person but it’s clear that the staff owners and racing fans enjoy Elliot’s honest straight talking nature. Some trainers shy away from giving an opinion but if you want to enjoy an honest interview have a look at Gordon Elliot chatting to RTÉ in Leopardstown over Christmas, it was clear he had enjoyed himself the night before.
One would argue that last year’s Gold Cup victory couldn’t be beaten, his stock couldn’t rise any higher than it did on that rainy day last March. But Gordon has surpassed that this year. The Mullins yard generally takes until November to churn out winners but Gordon had started the season early. He won the Galway Plate with Lord Scoundrel and a couple weeks later Wrath of Titans gained victory in Listowel. Most bookies still had Mullins odds-on to win the trainer`s title and even after the news of the O Leary`s leaving Clossuton and that Gordon would be benefactor of some extra fire power, it’s a brave man who would think that by March, Gordon would have such a strong lead in the Championship. Willie Mullins has had an Alex Ferguson like grip on the Trainers title in recent times, this time last year Willie was eyeing the prize of possibly being British Champion Trainer until his assault came unstuck by the drying ground of Sandown. But Gordon is currently odds-on to break the Willie Mullins streak, and take his very first Champion trainers award. The Gigginstown split which certainly boosted Gordons charges for the season, but people still weren’t taking his chances seriously, until November that is. Troytown day, a day on the calendar for any Meath man, and Gordon struck a six-timer, at odds of 41,276-1. His knack of coupling Graded winners with handicap winners was sure now to prove a potent weapon in his quest to conquer Willie.
Two great trainers, two great men, and two great stables. If Christmas came early to some, it came late to Willie Mullins as he again dominated the Leopardstown Christmas meeting, even adding winners in Limerick. But Gordon kept his nose in front with some well-placed horses in January. If there is a sign of the season, then just look at the Supreme Novice in Cheltenham. Willie Mullins Melon and Gordons Labaik. Two horse from different stables, different colours but both supremely talented. And yet it was Labaik who came out on top. the future looks bright for this extremely talented trainer who will be the Irish champion trainer very shortly judging by his progression.
Article by Carty Ban.