Gordon Elliott has certainly enjoyed a stratospheric rise to the top of the National Hunt game, bagging a Grand National winner when the ink was barely dry on his training licence.
A native of Summerhill in County Meath, Elliott sent out his first winner via Arresting at Perth in June 2006 – and he had not even trained a winner in Ireland when Silver Birch won the most famous race of all the following spring.
At the age of just 29, Elliott wrote his name into the record books as the youngest to saddle a Grand National winner as Silver Birch – a former Welsh National hero for Paul Nicholls – completed an amazing renaissance to thrust his trainer into the spotlight.
Elliott has barely looked back after that success. His evident talent allowed him to build up an increasingly powerful team and plenty of momentum, with Chicago Grey becoming the first of 32 Cheltenham Festival winners when lifting the National Hunt Chase in 2011.
His achievements are all the more impressive when you consider Elliott does not come from a racing background – his father was a panel-beater rather than a champion trainer or jockey.
Instead Elliott learnt his craft by initially working for trainer Tony Martin, going on to become a crack amateur rider – partnering a Grade One bumper winner at Punchestown in 1998 – and working for Martin Pipe before striking out on his own.
Festival winners have become a regular occurrence, and Elliott did not have to wait too long for a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner as Don Cossack claimed the Festival showpiece in 2016.
Five times a Grade One scorer before going for the blue riband, Don Cossack benefited from the fall of £1million-bonus-chasing Cue Card three fences from home – but sadly did not get chance to confirm superstar status as injury subsequently ended his career.
Elliott had any amount of firepower at his disposal, though – and despite that blow, the wagon has kept on rolling with the likes of supermare Apple’s Jade regularly bagging Grade One prizes, while Samcro landed a monster gamble in the 2018 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
However, Tiger Roll’s Grand National win in 2018 was to prove the start of something really special as the plucky, pony-sized chaser soared over the Aintree fences – following up 12 months later to become the first back-to-back winner since the great Red Rum in 1974.
The coronavirus pandemic robbed Tiger Roll of a shot at racing history when the 2020 running was cancelled.
Flat success is also not beyond Elliott’s remit, with Dirar landing the 2010 Ebor at York before Commissioned gave him a notable Royal Ascot victory in the 2016 Queen Alexandra Stakes.
Group-race glory awaited in 2017 too, as Beckford claimed the Railway Stakes at the Curragh – proving Elliott’s ability under both codes.
A trainers’ championship has continued to elude him, as his heavyweight battles with Willie Mullins have become something of the norm over the last few seasons.
He came agonisingly close in the 2016-17 campaign, holding the lead until the penultimate day of the season when perennial champion Mullins edged back in front in a competition determined by prize-money, rather than the number of winners saddled.
Elliott sent out 193 winners that year compared to the 180 of Mullins, but fell £200,000 short – while the following year he saddled 210 winners, yet Mullins still topped him with two more wins and a chunk more money.
Elliott, who turned 43 on Tuesday, has finished runner-up in each of the last eight seasons and is again in second place this term.
He had been looking forward to another winner-packed Cheltenham, led by superstar-in-waiting Envoi Allen – but those dreams have been shattered by recent events and the future will now concern a major rebuilding of both his training operation and reputation.
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