Gordon Elliott remains the main challenger to Mr Mullins over in Ireland, though prize money of £2 million still leaves the County Meath trainer a cool million adrift of the Closutton crew.
Much of Elliott’s firepower comes from the association with Gigginstown House Stud. Don Cossack, No More Heroes and the recent Christmas Hurdle winner Prince Of Scars are just three that have struck at Grade 1 level in recent months.
Two of the three are strongly fancied to win at Cheltenham next month, and the trainer spoke of the forthcoming Festival in the Racing & Football Outlook, when saying: “There is nothing better than doing well there and I think we have the making of a strong team, but you need the luck as well as the horse. The next few weeks are a nervous time as we try to keep everything on track.”
Of ‘The Don’ Elliott said: “He is now as strong as he has ever been and we are all very excited about his chances in the Gold Cup. He will be better on quicker ground, which he is very likely to get, and I couldn't be happier with him. We have talked about putting some headgear on him at Cheltenham, but we won't make our minds up until much nearer the time as the ground will be important to the decision.”
Though Don Cossack remains the apple of his trainer’s eye, it is No More Heroes who is arguably the most likely to strike gold at Prestbury Park. He is a short priced favourite to take the RSA Chase having impressed in his three victories over fences; two of which were Grade 1 wins.
He was probably a little unfortunate not to take the Albert Bartlett last March, when squeezed for room on the rail, forcing him to be switched to renew his challenge after the last. The ground was very demanding that day, and his wins this winter have also been in testing ground. However, being by Presenting, it is likely that he will act perfectly well on a sounder surface. Jockey Bryan Cooper believes he’s a class act, and confidence appears high that he can go very close.
Elliott struck a double at Navan on Sunday after a relatively quiet spell. Clearly the yard is now aiming their major assets at the festivals, and it’s therefore no surprise that February has only yielded half a dozen winners. One or two that failed to hit the target in recent weeks may still be worth keeping a close eye on when those festivals arrive.
Taglietelle ran a race of great promise when third to Cup Final in the Pertemps Qualifier at Musselburgh just over a week ago. Elliott’s seven-year-old was a close fourth in the Coral Cup last March before winning at Aintree a month later. He’s not the biggest, and he’ll be towards the top end of the handicap, but he’s ultra-consistent and will enjoy the likely sounder surface.
Another that may well improve for better ground is the yard’s classy novice hurdler Tombstone. On the face of it, he was probably slightly disappointing last time when weak in the finish of the Deloitte Novice Hurdle. He looked the likely winner approaching the last, only to be shrugged aside by Bleu Et Rouge. Despite the defeat, he has now finished runner-up in two of Ireland’s most prestigious Grade 1 novice hurdles, and should he improve for better ground, as many by Robin Des Champs do, he could well go close at Cheltenham. Elliott favours the Supreme, for which he is currently a fair each-way price.
Finally I’d like to throw Noble Endeavor out there as a Gordon Elliott dark horse. It’s fair to say that he has yet to set the World alight since being switched to fences. His second place finish at Navan on Sunday was slightly more promising, though he never looked likely to win. His jumping remains patchy, but I’m hoping that better ground will help and he looks a fair prospect in whichever race Elliott decides to take on. I hope it proves to be JLT, though the four miler is also thought to be under consideration. He was only just edged out at Cheltenham last March, when chinned on the line by Killultagh Vic in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle. That’s serious form, if he can just tighten up on that jumping.
It’s already been a wonderful season for Gordon Elliott, and he will head into the latter part of the campaign full of hope, with several outstanding horses in his care. Luck as always will play a part, but he’ll travel to Cheltenham with his strongest team to date, and every chance of lifting a major prize or two.