Our editor @DarrenConghaile had the pleasure of attending Gordon Elliott’s media open day on Tuesday afternoon to get the low-down on his intended Cheltenham Festival entries.
Gordon Elliott won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2016 with Don Cossack and the handlers present-day record at of winners at the festival is 25, all achieved since 2011. Elliott won The Leading Trainer Award in 2017 with six winners and again in 2018 with eight winners; This year he will be expectant further success given the strength of his operation.
The Gigginstown owned Delta Work heads for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on the back of two G1 successes at Leopardstown. The seven-year-old bounced back from a rare unsatisfactory performance at Down Royal in November with triumph in the G1 Savils Chase over Christmas and doubled up in the G1 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival on 9 February.
Speaking at his Co Meath stables, Elliott stated: “Delta Work will be our runner in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. I don’t think he has done too much wrong over the last couple of seasons. He was lame after Down Royal and the only real time he has been beat was in the RSA last year. It just did not work out on the day. I would say the mistake I made last year was not running him between Christmas and Cheltenham. He only does what he has to do and if you look at his form, he is better with runs behind him. Last season, he just beat Ben Dundee in Down Royal and then got better and better.
“I think he is tailor-made for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. His style of racing will suit and so will the trip.
We are fortunate to have these good horses that people like talking about, but he perhaps gets forgotten about a bit. He has won five or six G1s and is a great little horse. We are lucky to have him. He is not a big, robust horse, but he is a fair one. The one thing about him is that he stays. I love him. “The biggest danger will almost certainly be what Willie Mullins runs. I always have great respect for his runners. You would have to respect Santini as well and, if the ground came up bottomless, you could not rule out Tizzard’s Native River either.”
The next generation of stars at Cullentra House Stables are headed by leading novice hurdlers Envoi Allen, who is unbeaten in seven starts under Rules, and Abacadabras. Envoi Allen landed the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at The Festival in 2019 and has continued to surmount the heights this season with G1 successes in the G1 Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle (2m) at Fairyhouse in December and the G1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Hotel Novice Hurdle (2m 4f) at Naas on 5 January.
Abacadabras chased home his stablemate at Fairyhouse, after notable victories at Gowran Park and Navan, and has since landed a G1 event at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Envoi Allen is expected to head for the £125,000 G1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2m 5f, Wednesday, 11 March), while Abacadabras is declared for the £125,000 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; the opening race of the festival. Elliott stated: “Abacadabras has not run since Christmas because he has already had four runs over hurdles, and I believed another run may knock the edge off him. He is a speed horse and the one concern I would have is if it came up very soft. I am not sure he would be as effective on Heavy ground as he would on Good to Soft. Elliott added; “If it came up very soft, I would not rule out Envoi Allen dropping back for the Supreme. At the moment, he is going for the Ballymore, but he could be my only other runner in the Supreme if it came up very soft. There would have to heavy in the going description for him to switch over.
“Envoi Allen is in great form. Keith [Donoghue] rides him every day and could not be happier. He missed the Dublin Racing Festival as well as he’d already had three runs over hurdles, and I did not think there was much to gain by going there. He may have a go in a schooling hurdle over the next 10 days. “I don’t know what all this gossip is about him being a hype horse. He has done it himself by winning three G1s. I don’t talk about any horse; it is you guys [the media] who talk about them. He is a good horse and, listen, there is always more pressure when you go with the likes of him. We don’t hype them up, but we think he is a very good horse. I believe if you win seven out of seven, people are prone to talk about you, aren’t they?
Elliott provided updates on an assortment of stars ahead of The Cheltenham Festival, none more prevalent than dual Randox Health Grand National hero Tiger Roll. Tiger Roll is aiming for a third straight victory in Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase and his fifth victory at The Festival in all, having also captured the 2014 JCB Triumph Hurdle and 2017 National Hunt Chase. The 10-year-old made an promising return to action this season at Navan on 16 February, when fifth behind stablemate Cracking Smart in the G2 Boyne Hurdle. Elliott said: “Tiger Roll and Out Sam will run in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. I was very delighted with the way Tiger Roll ran on Sunday and, as you saw this morning, he has come out of the race very well. He would be the one horse we are all looking forward to during Cheltenham week.
“I actually thought that, given the ground, he would not run as well as he did on Sunday, as he had only been back cantering since 1 January. I thought he showed a lot of zest and jumped very well. He looked the winner between the third and second last, and then got tired. It was great to see him back and running so well. Elliott added “He will possibly go over to Cheltenham now for a school over the cross-country course and then it will be all systems go for The Festival.”We are very fortunate to have a horse like him. The odds are against him in the Grand National – four and a quarter mile, 30 fences and 40 runners. I am not concerned about top weight. The handicapper had his job to do and he can’t have done any more than that. “If he is one piece, he will stay in training next season and there is no reason why he can’t have a go at the cross country race again. He is 10 years of age and Michael O’Leary is not purchasing any more horses, so we need to keep as many of them in as we can!
“Coeur Sublime will be my only runner in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. He has had a wind operation since he ran at Christmas. He would not mind a bit of cut in the ground. It is going to be a competitive but open Champion Hurdle, and it would not surprise me if he was placed.
“Samcro has an entry, but if he goes to Cheltenham, it will be for the Marsh Novices’ Chase. He has had a wind operation since Limerick and, although we were frustrated on the day, he was beaten by a good horse. We had problems with him last season not scoping right, and he did not scope great after Limerick. He is a very hard horse to keep right. He is working well and looks great, so we will give it a go. I would favour the ground to be on the better side for him.
“Champagne Classic is in the National Hunt Chase, along with Ravenhill and a couple of others. I will have to wrap up plans with Michael and Eddie [O’Leary], but if I had my way, Champagne Classic will be going for the National Hunt Chase. I think the race is made for him. It just varies on how their ammunition is looking for the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase.
“Battleoverdoyen was very sore after Leopardstown [he took a fall]. He is back riding out and you saw him this morning. He is the one horse I would be nervous about going to Cheltenham with. He never ate or drank once he got over there last year and ran appallingly [PU as 3/1f in Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle]. It would not be a surprise if I kept him at home. If that happens, there is chance Champagne Classic might switch to the RSA.
“If Apple’s Jade runs in anything, it will be the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, but nothing is set in stone. We worked her the other day and she was a bit listless, so we will see how she goes between now and Cheltenham. It is not my decision, but I would suppose she will be covered this year. She has won 11 G1s and does not owe anything to anybody at this stage of her career. She has been the horse of a lifetime. I have said all year that I don’t think she has been working as well as she did in the past.
“Shattered Love is in the Ryanair Chase and may go there. She ran very well in Gowran at the weekend, having had a wind operation before that. I would have to discuss it with the owners, but it would not be a shock if she ran. She seems to be a better mare over this sort of trip rather than staying distances. She is in all the handicaps as well and I would not rule out going down that route either. She has huge feet and I would say soft ground is the key to her.
“If I run any horse in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, it will be Battle Of Wills. He won in Naas and I think he is a good horse. He is going to work in the morning and then with a bit of luck go to Fairyhouse at the weekend. Then we will see where he goes from there. The Triumph looks an open race and I think if you have a horse who can travel off the pace, you will have a chance because they are going to go very quick in front. The three or four favourites are all front runners.
“The ground was quick enough for Fury Road at the Dublin Racing Festival [finished fourth]. He wasn’t actually beaten that far, and I think three miles in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on softer ground, you will see a different horse. I have got an awful lot of respect for Paul Nolan’s horse Latest Exhibition. He is the one we all have to beat, and his style of race will suit the race – he races behind the bridle and always has plenty left. Easywork is entered here, but he will probably run in the Ballymore.
“Fury Road is our main chance in the ballymore at Cheltenham“.
“Galvin will definitely run in the Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase. Chosen Mate is entered but I am not sure he will get in. I think he will be rated too highly.
“In the Pertemps Network Final, we will almost certainly run The Storyteller and Sire du Berlais, who won it last year. Sire du Berlais will probably wear blinkers. The Storyteller had a nice prep for it at Leopardstown [finished 6th in a qualifier] and has won at Cheltenham before (2018 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate). He is just a very hard horse to place because he has been running in all those good races over fences the last couple of years. He is not quite a G1 horse, so this looks the right race to go for in Cheltenham. We have a couple of others that need to qualify who are running at Punchestown tomorrow, so we will see how they get on.
“Death Duty did not run badly in Gowran, but he is not quite there yet. He is entered in all the handicaps at Cheltenham, as well as the Grand National. I am not sure if he will go to Cheltenham or not. I will have to discuss it with the boys. He could go to Down Royal the same week for the Daily Mirror Chase. “Ben Dundee will certainly run in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate. He was third there last year in the novices’ handicap chase. He loves running fresh, so we are going straight there. Dallas des Pictons could perhaps run here as well, although I may keep him for the Irish Grand National. He would not be one of the better handicapped going over to Cheltenham if he travels.
“I do not know if I am going to have Daylight Katie ready in time for the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. She got a cut in Down Royal the day she won in November and it got infected. It has taken a while to get her right, as it had to be flushed out and she was in the vets for three or four weeks. She is back cantering now, but I think Cheltenham will probably come a fortnight too soon. We could keep her for Fairyhouse.”I would imagine Glenloe will go in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase, all being well. Ravenhill and Roaring Bull are also in the mix for this. We could run two or three.