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Monday Musings: Gordon’s Cunning Plan?

Six months is a long time in politics, writes Tony Stafford: ask all the Tory ministers who either got sacked, demoted, moved sideways or occasionally up in the latest reshuffle. It’s a long time in the Covid19 story too, ask John Gosden’s mate, former Health Minister Matt Hancock, but it seems it is but a blink of an eye in Irish horseracing.

Gordon Elliott and Charles Byrnes came back from their independent six-month bans for breaches of Rules and in the former case basic decency. Each within days has shown that nothing has changed in their absence.
Immediately after THAT picture of him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops, Elliott was briefly the most hated man who had anything to do with caring for animals. Never mind that all his friends and co-workers insisted he was a true animal-lover, as well he may be and probably is.

But the six months’ absence, conveniently salved by the fact that another local trainer, the little-known Denise Foster, was allowed to be shoe-horned in and keep the show on the road, has been probably a nice summer break for the man.

Denise did her required task to the tune of 30 jumps wins from 275 runners at around an 11% strike-rate. In the latest two-week analysis whereby Racing Post statistics convey whether trainers are hot, cold or lukewarm, she had five runners, all on the Flat, each starting at least 14/1 and with two places before being shown the door – I trust with a nice bouquet of flowers for her trouble.

Elliott, whose last ban-shortened jumps tally was 155 wins from 1,003 thus 15%, started back in the middle of the week before last and already has six wins on the board from 21 jump representatives, at a rate of 29%.

What occurred to my suspicious mind is that the recruitment of Mrs Foster offered a real opportunity for Gordon. Once it became clear that he would be coming back, if not to all the owners – some like Cheveley Park Stud with Cheltenham on the horizon were swept away in all the emotion and opprobrium that descended on the trainer - he could plan for the future.

His biggest supporter, Gigginstown House Stud of the O’Leary brothers, stayed firm, albeit with the well-chronicled promised reductions in the size of their operation beginning to take effect – more than 40 of their horses were in the recent Doncaster sale.

One oddity has already suggested more than a minor reduction. None of the 21 initial Elliott horses wore the maroon livery of Gigginstown – maybe the easing in the holiday Covid regulations will cheer up the always-combative boss of Ryanair?

Having another name on the licence even if Gordie was allowed to keep his nose on the place, was an invitation to get a few horses down the handicap, not that I’m suggesting Denise was breaking any rules. But it’s simple enough to run horses over the wrong trip, on unsuitable ground or even when they are either unfit or out of sorts. The excuses are well-enough noted in the trainers’ lexicon. Expect a constant flood of winners from this undeniably talented trainer.

While Elliott did have some restrictions, the six-month ban on Charles Byrnes, long known as the shrewdest of Irish shrewd trainers, was a ban pretty much only in name.

Even the initial and name on the licence after his misdemeanour was unchanged with Cathal Byrnes holding the fort. Charles was allowed to go into the yard and even take the horses around the parade ring before their races.

Since regaining his credentials Byrnes has had the grand total of two runners, one unplaced jumper and one on the Flat.

UK trainers quite rightly have been moaning for ages about the favourable treatment of Irish horses in our valuable handicaps and I have been right up there in pleading their case. What happened at Cheltenham was a joke and belatedly Dominic Gardner-Hill, head of handicapping has promised a review.

Saturday’s Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket – the winners of which never seem to get anywhere near in the main event the following month – still carried a highly-desirable £20k first prize. Byrnes selected the race for his 79-rated seven-year-old Turnpike Trip who on his last run for Cathal Byrnes had been a close second in a race over a similar trip but worth only €6k at Down Royal.

Back in the Charles Byrnes fold, virtually untouched for a good run and with the incentive of a valuable winner’s prize and some ordinary opposition, here was an opportunity for Clever Charlie to fill his boots.

As the Racing Post joyfully crowed, the gamble was landed by two lengths from Live Your Dream, trying in vain to concede an improbable 22lb to the invader over the marathon trip. The other seven were eight lengths and more behind.

The last time Charles bothered to bring Turnpike Trip across to the UK, he ran in a handicap hurdle at Ascot at the Christmas meeting in 2019, three months after winning a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Tipperary and three weeks after he ran the brilliant Envoi Allen to eight lengths off  levels in a Grade 1.

Starting only 6/1 from a mark of 146 he finished fourth to Hughie Morrison’s smart dual-purpose horse Not So Sleepy, who at the time was rated 16lb Turnpike Trip’s inferior. The Irish horse was 14 lengths behind the winner, but that horse, who was fifth to Honeysuckle in this year’s Champion Hurdle, is now rated 153 hurdles and 99 on the Flat. All Byrnes had to do once the mark was fixed – and with no sense that maybe he was a blot of Burning Victory proportions at Deauville the other week – he just had to wait for the right valuable race. Job done!

And here was a horse running off 79. Help yourself - Charlie and his pals did.

The new system once it comes into force needs addressing at many levels, not least the ease with which low-grade or rather lowly-rated Irish horses can come and pick off as they like 0-55 races over here.

Handicapping and its potential for unfairness has long been an issue for Hughie Morrison and as he watched his nice three-year-old King Of Clubs toil home behind the placed horses at Newbury on Saturday he must have been screaming with rage.

King Of Clubs has won twice in handicaps, the second off a mark of 86 at Sandown when he finished well and got up on the line to win by a nose. Now there are trainers who would be shocked if such a win entailed more than a 2lb or 3lb extra impost but King Of Clubs got 5lb!
Then when the latest ratings came out on Tuesday, that most hated of concepts in the Revised Handicap ratings feature – collateral form – was brought to bear.

Here horses standing in the box on Tuesday morning can be given more weight because of something a close rival has done since his own last performance. In this case Sandown runner-up Victory Chime won next time at Chester, albeit only by three-quarters of a length, but the BHA handicapper added another 2lb to King Of Clubs’ mark.

Now raised 7lb for a nose, Hughie must have feared the worst for his 93-rated three-year-old. By that single action King Of Clubs can no longer run in 0-90 handicaps whereas without the extra 2lb he still could have.

Faced with horses of a different calibre and with far more experience he predictably found it all too much. Not only is the horse being forced into too strong company too early in his career, with the potential for halting his progress, his owners are now much more likely to succumb to offers to buy him from abroad. These are the sort of horses that should be encouraged to race in this country.

Elsewhere Charlie Appleby continued his world-wide sweep of the big races with two Saturday major pay-days in North America.

Recruiting an available Frankie Dettori for the Canadian International at Woodbine racecourse, Toronto, he collected £206,000 for Godolphin when hard-knocking Walton Street wiped away the opposition by more than five lengths.

Desert Encounter, trained by David Simcock to win the two previous editions in 2018 and 2019, had to be content with second on Saturday.

Then in New York, Yibir, winner last time of the Great Voltigeur at York but side-stepping the St Leger, was found a choice alternative in the Jockey Club Invitational for three-year-olds. Third favourite behind Bolshoi Ballet, already a winner at Belmont in the summer, Yibir came from last to first under guest rider Jamie Spencer, collecting £390,000 for the Appleby yard. That made it an (in the words of Lou Reed) Oh what a perfect day in North America coming home with almost £600,000! For the record Bolshoi Ballet, the favourite, was fourth.

Finally I have to mention my friend Jamie Reid’s (same sound, different spelling!) authorised biography of Victor Chandler which takes us to Longchamp 2007 and his (and three associates’) arrest for unlawful bookmaking at the Arc meeting. I was around in those days and have read this last chapter. Reid is a wonderful writer and was also very close to the subject for the period the book covers, I can’t wait to read the rest of it.

* Victor Chandler, Put Your Life On it. Reach Sport £20.

Davy Russell celebrates first success since riding return

Davy Russell was back in the winner’s enclosure for the first time in almost a year at Navan on Saturday after steering Chemical Energy to an impressive victory.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider was sidelined for 11 months after dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick last October aboard Doctor Duffy.

Russell made his long-awaited return to action at Downpatrick on Friday, with each of his two rides for Gordon Elliott – who himself returned from a six-month suspension earlier this week – filling the runner-up spot.

Davy Russell and trainer Gordon Elliott (right) at Navan
Davy Russell and trainer Gordon Elliott (right) at Navan (Niall Carson/PA)

The 42-year-old appeared to have every chance of going one better at Navan, with dual bumper winner Chemical Energy the 4-7 favourite to make a successful start to his jumping career in the Bar One Racing ‘Double The Odds First Goalscorer Special’ Maiden Hurdle.

Making his first appearance since finishing down the field in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the Elliott-trained five-year-old travelled strongly before pulling 11 lengths clear of Fancy A Cosmo with the minimum of fuss.

Russell said: “That was lovely. It was heartening to get such a nice reception when I came back in. My mother is from this part of the country, so my uncles used to always come racing here in the past. It’s a great place.

“It’s a lovely feeling when you cross the line. It’s a relief, if anything, and at least I can still do it anyway.

“I feel great, super, and got through Downpatrick no problem.”

Chemical Energy jumps the final flight clear at Navan
Chemical Energy jumps the final flight clear at Navan (Niall Carson/PA)

Elliott was completing a double on the card after winning the opening maiden hurdle with the similarly promising Weseekhimhere (11-10 favourite), ridden by Jack Kennedy.

He said of Chemical Energy: “He’s not a bad horse. We’ll try to find a novice hurdle for him now. The owners are from England so I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up going over there for something.

“It’s great for Davy to come back on a winner, obviously he’s a big part of the team.”

The trainer then made it three with the Jordan Gainford-ridden Tullybeg (6-1) in the BarOneRacing.com Hurdle.

Minor honours for Davy Russell on Downpatrick comeback

Davy Russell had to make do with minor honours on his long-awaited return to action at Downpatrick.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider had been sidelined since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick last October aboard Doctor Duffy.

The 42-year-old had initially hoped to return in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March, but ultimately lost his race against time to be fit for the showpiece meeting, and ended up being out of action for just over 11 months.

Hopes were high that Russell could make a winning comeback aboard Gordon Elliott’s 7-4 favourite The Greek in Downpatrick’s opening Bill McIlroy Bookmaker Maiden Hurdle, but he had to settle for the runner-up spot behind Henry de Bromhead’s 15-length winner Serenity Grove.

“Yes, it’s great (buzz) and fantastic to be back,” the jockey said afterwards.

“I’ve had a lot of success here and I enjoy coming here – the crowd are very good to me.”

Russell looked likely to go one better on his only other ride of the day, after guiding the Elliott-trained The Abbey to the lead on the run to the second fence from home in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.

But while the 11-2 chance jumped the final obstacle in front, he was eventually reeled in by stablemate Hurricane Georgie and 5lb claimer Jordan Gainford.

Eliott said: “I’d say the weight kicked in up the hill (on The Abbey).

“Jordan gave the winner a nice ride, and she jumped well. That was great.

“She was solid over hurdles, but this race was made for her because she was getting all the allowances.”

Elliott completed a double when Top Bandit duly landed the odds in the Franco Hughes Bookmaker INH Flat Race.

Top amateur Jamie Codd steered the 2-7 shot to a smooth five-length victory over Mary Meehan, after pulling clear in the final two furlongs.

“He’s a grand horse and he will go jumping hurdles straightaway,” said Elliott.

“We couldn’t believe he hadn’t won a bumper before now.”

On his double, he added: “I love coming here, they are good people. I have been coming here since I was 14 or 15 years of age. It’s brilliant.”

Russell will head to Navan on Saturday to ride Chemical Energy, and Coach Carter is then his sole ride on the opening afternoon of the Harvest Festival at Listowel on Sunday.

Davy Russell excited to be returning to the saddle after 11-month absence

Davy Russell is relishing a return to competitive action at Downpatrick on Friday after 11 months on the sidelines with injury.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider has not been seen in the saddle since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick in October aboard Doctor Duffy.

The 42-year-old had hoped to return in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March, but ultimately lost his race against time to be fit for the showpiece meeting, while he also decided against a comeback at Punchestown the following month.

Davy Russell aboard dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll
Davy Russell aboard dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll (Mike Egerton/PA)

Having given himself plenty of time to recover, Russell makes his comeback aboard Gordon Elliott’s The Greek in Friday’s opener in Northern Ireland, before partnering his stablemate The Abbey later in the afternoon.

He said: “It’s been delayed a couple of times so it’s great to get there. I feel great.”

Speaking on RTE Radio’s ‘Game On’ programme, Russell admitted the early stages of his recovery were difficult, but insists he never gave up hope of returning to the saddle.

“I just had to accept that I had a serious injury and that it was all about recovering and trying to get back,” he added.

“I found it hard at the start when I couldn’t drive and had to walk everywhere. Then I started cycling. I was trying to do as much exercise as I could because I didn’t want to let my weight go up too much.

“I had a body cast and a neck cast and couldn’t see behind me. It was a relief to get the cast and neck brace off.

“It was a challenge, but there was always light at the end of the tunnel.

“Once the operation went well and the recovery went well, I was always happy I was going to get there.

“I love winning. That’s the one thing I missed. That feeling when you cross the line is irreplaceable really.”

Russell is back during the same week Elliott returned from suspension.

Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell have formed a formidable partnership
Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell have formed a formidable partnership (Brian Lawless/PA)

Elliott was banned for 12 months, with half of that punishment suspended, after an image of him sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media in March.

Russell is looking forward to renewing the partnership, saying: “Myself and Gordon work really well together. When he is going I’m a better jockey, so I’m really looking forward to getting back in there.

“His ability to train horses is not in question and he doesn’t have to start at the very bottom where he had done in the past.

“I’d be quite confident he can get back to the level where he left off. He still has a lot of very good owners with him and a lot of nice horses.

“I’ll be treating him the same and a normal human being that understands life in general would treat him the same.”

Fancy Foundations is comeback winner for Gordon Elliott

Fancy Foundations registered Gordon Elliott’s first win since his return from suspension, with a determined success at Sligo.

The leading Irish trainer was banned for 12 months, with half of that punishment suspended, after an image of him sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media in March.

Elliott was also ordered to pay costs of €15,000 – with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board stating the punishment reflected “the seriousness of the offence and the damage to the Irish racing industry” after the image provoked huge public outcry.

After serving a ban of six months, during which time Denise Foster took temporary control of Cullentra House stables, Elliott saddled his first runner since March 8 on Tuesday’s Flat card at Punchestown – where Oh Purple Reign finished well beaten.

The Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning handler was widely expected to get off the mark in the opening race back over the jumps at Sligo on Wednesday, but 8-13 favourite The Sliding Rock made a bad mistake when trying to close in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase and finished third of four runners.

With Silver Star and Imperial Sachin’s also out of luck later on the card, it was left for Elliott’s final runner of the day Fancy Foundations to come up with the goods in the Templehouse Lake Chase – which he ultimately did in battling style.

Faced with just three rivals, the even-money favourite did not always convince in the jumping department, but dug deep for Denis O’Regan after the final fence to get the better of Blackstair Rocco by four lengths.

Elliott said: “We thought we were coming here with two good chances, the mare in the first (The Sliding Rock) and obviously this lad.

Gordon Elliott at Punchestown on Tuesday
Gordon Elliott at Punchestown on Tuesday (Niall Carson/PA)

“It was a good performance. He was a bit keen. and it was a tactical race, but Denis gave him a good ride and he jumped well. It’s great for Andrew and Gemma Brown (owners), who are great supporters of the yard.

“He’s not a real winter, heavy-ground horse and he’ll probably go for a novice chase at Cheltenham in October.”

Elliott received warm applause from those around the parade ring.

He added: “It was nice to get that reception from the people here. I’ve missed them for the last six months, as much as they’ve missed me.

John Ryan's Grange Walk won the Frank O'Beirne Memorial Handicap Chase
John Ryan’s Grange Walk won the Frank O’Beirne Memorial Handicap Chase

“It’s brilliant for my staff. They’ve worked hard. Alicia, the girl who led up the horse, is going back to college next week to be a vet, and that was her first time leading up a winner – so it’s great.”

Elsewhere on the card it was a memorable afternoon for trainer John Ryan, who saddled four of the seven winners.

The Templemore-based trainer rattled off a hat-trick in the first three races, with Kitty Galore (7-2), Rippon Lodge (15-2) and Grange Walk (4-1) all striking gold, before completing his four-timer in the finale with 11-2 chance Father Jed.

Ryan enjoyed a treble at the corresponding fixture in 2016 – the only time he has previously saddled three winners at one meeting.

Davy Russell returns at Downpatrick

Davy Russell returns to the saddle at Downpatrick on Friday after 11 months on the sidelines with a neck injury.

The dual Grand National-winning jockey has been out of action since a fall from Doctor Duffy at the first fence of the Munster National at Limerick last October.

He initially hoped to be back for Cheltenham and then Aintree in the spring.

Once he had missed all the big Festivals, Russell was determined not to rush back and instead made sure he was 100 per cent recovered before targeting a return to action.

The day will finally arrive on Friday, when he teams up twice with his old friend and ally Gordon Elliott.

He will ride The Greek in the Bill McIlroy Bookmaker Maiden Hurdle and later on the card partners The Abbey in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.

Elliott out of luck as comeback runner Oh Purple Reign is unplaced

Gordon Elliott was out of luck at Punchestown with his first runner since returning from suspension.

The leading Irish trainer was banned for 12 months, with half of that punishment suspended, after an image of him sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media in March.

Elliott was also ordered to pay costs of €15,000 – with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board stating the punishment reflected “the seriousness of the offence and the damage to the Irish racing industry” after the image provoked huge public outcry.

Gordon Elliott (right) speaks with jockey Declan McDonogh at Punchestown
Gordon Elliott (right) speaks with jockey Declan McDonogh at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

After serving a ban of six months, during which time Denise Foster took temporary control of Cullentra stables, Elliott was free to begin making entries again from last Thursday – initially making five for Punchestown’s Flat fixture.

But he declared only two runners – and with third reserve Alice Kitty failing to make the cut in race six, his solitary representative on Tuesday’s card was recent winner Oh Purple Reign in the Donate To The Coast To The Curragh Cycle In Honour Of Pat Smullen Handicap.

Ridden by Declan McDonogh, the four-year-old was the 9-2 second-favourite to follow up his Gowran Park victory of 13 days earlier, but was struggling towards the rear turning for home and ultimately beat just two rivals in 12th place behind 14-1 winner Khafaaq.

Elliott, who was in attendance at Punchestown, is set to saddle four runners on Wednesday’s National Hunt card at Sligo.

He said: “It’s great to be back racing and seeing faces that I haven’t seen in a long time.

“I would have obviously preferred if the horse ran a bit better, but it’s nice to be back.

“I have really missed coming racing over the last few months, so I’m looking forward to getting back into that routine again.”

Punchestown ready for Gordon Elliott’s return

Punchestown is ready to welcome Gordon Elliott back on track if he is in attendance following the end of his suspension – as crowds also return to the Leinster venue for the first time since February 2020.

As Punchestown stages a rare Flat fixture on Tuesday, Elliott has one confirmed runner – Oh Purple Reign in the Donate To The Coast To The Curragh Cycle In Honour Of Pat Smullen Handicap.

He also has Alice Kitty as third reserve in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Handicap later on the card.

Elliott was free to make entries again from last Thursday, following the end of the suspension imposed by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board in March after an image of him sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media.

The top Irish trainer was banned for 12 months, with half of that sentence suspended, and Denise Foster took temporary control of his Cullentra base.

Elliott is no stranger to success at this scene of his return, with Don Cossack in the 2015 Punchestown Gold Cup one of his many highlights over jumps.

Racecourse manager Richie Galway said: “He has been a huge supporter of Punchestown for many years, and obviously he’s served his suspension, and he’ll be welcomed very much by us all here at Punchestown.

“I don’t know if he’s coming.”

Punchestown will have nowhere near the 5,000 crowd once more allowed, as coronavirus restrictions are eased, but there is the incentive of free admission for those wanting to go.

Top chaser Don Cossack is among the previous winners Gordon Elliott has trained at Punchestown
Top chaser Don Cossack is among the previous winners Gordon Elliott has trained at Punchestown (PA)

“It’s just nice to be racing,” added Galway.

“We have just re-opened the racecourse to the public, and I’m delighted to see them back. We have offered free admission for anyone who wants to come racing tomorrow.

“Obviously given the protocols in Ireland at the moment, you have to pre-register in advance and have to track and trace. It has proven popular and it is just good to see crowds back racing.

“We can have 5,000 but we won’t get anywhere near the capacity tomorrow. The last time we had racegoers here would have been February 2020.”

Punchestown staged a Flat meeting last year for the first time since 2002, and more can be expected when a new €5million development is completed in 2025.

Galway said: “We’re constantly modifying and developing our track.

Punchestown is set for a major development plan
Punchestown is set for a major development plan (Brian Lawless/PA)

“The latest plan is a track extension, and the home straight widened, that will facilitate more fixtures in general – not specifically linked to Flat racing but (which) will enable us to have additional Flat racing.

“It is something we are keen to do – we are keen to maximise racing options and make our facility better, with on-going development as part of our strategy.

“We had a Flat meeting last year, and it was well-received by the industry in general.

“At Punchestown we are keen to provide a top-class racing surface and lay-out, so it’s really gratifying to see the support that we have for tomorrow’s meeting.”

Elliott will have his first jumps runners at Sligo on Wednesday, with four of his seven entries declared.

Elliott poised for return to action at Punchestown

Oh Purple Reign is set to be Gordon Elliott’s first runner following his six-month ban, at Punchestown on Tuesday.

Elliott was free to begin making entries again from last Thursday, after the end of his suspension by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board in March when an image of him sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media.

The top Irish trainer was banned for 12 months, with half of that sentence suspended, and ordered to pay costs of €15,000 – with the IHRB stating the punishment reflected “the seriousness of the offence and the damage to the Irish racing industry” after the image provoked huge public outcry.

Denise Foster took temporary control of Elliott’s Cullentra base, enjoying a Grade One winner at the Cheltenham Festival with Mares’ Hurdle victor Black Tears while also saddling dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll as he bounced back to winning form with a wide-margin success in the cross country.

Elliott initially made five entries on the Flat card at Punchestown – but after final declarations were published on Sunday morning, Oh Purple Reign appears likely to be his sole representative.

The four-year-old, a winner at Gowran for Foster on September 1, is one of a field of 14 for race three of the afternoon – the Donate To The Coast To The Curragh Cycle In Honour Of Pat Smullen Handicap.

Elliott also still has Alice Kitty engaged in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Handicap later on the card – but she is currently third reserve, so is unlikely at this stage to be granted a run.

He has, meanwhile, been speaking of the impact felt by himself, his family and staff at his yard following the circulation of the photograph six months ago.

In an excerpt from an interview with Racing TV, which is scheduled to be aired in full on Monday, Elliott recalled the events of March.

“You think you’re thick-skinned, until you see something like this,” he said.

“It was terrible – I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life.

“We got a week of very bad social media, newspapers, television, Twitter and everything else like it.

“It is something I wouldn’t ever like to experience again.

“For my family, it was unbelievable; for all the staff in the yard, for something very foolish I did, all the pain I put them through.”

He acknowledges the crisis was of his own making, adding he just hopes to be able to move on after completing his suspension.

“For my family, friends, all my staff, even all the people in my village in Summerhill, it was terrible,” he said.

“I probably didn’t show my face in Summerhill for three or four months after … it wasn’t nice.

“Obviously it was something very stupid I did. I apologised to everyone for what I did – but it was my fault, and the blame stops with me.

“I apologised to everyone, and all I want to do is put it behind me.”

Elliott, best-known for his training of National Hunt stars – including Tiger Roll’s Aintree exploits, and at the Cheltenham Festival – appears set to have his first jumps runners back on track on Wednesday, having entered seven horses at Sligo.

He has a possible contender in each of the seven races on the card – although Chesterville and Silver Star both hold two optional engagements.

Sligo declarations will be published on Monday morning.

Gordon Elliott set for runners at Punchestown on Tuesday

Gordon Elliott has made a handful of entries for Tuesday’s Flat meeting at Punchestown after his six-month ban expired on Thursday.

The trainer was suspended by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board in March after an image of Elliott sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media.

Elliott was banned for 12 months, with half of that sentence suspended, and ordered to pay costs of €15,000 with the IHRB stating the punishment reflected “the seriousness of the offence and the damage to the Irish racing industry” after the image provoked huge public outcry.

Denise Foster took temporary control of Elliott’s Cullentra base, enjoying a Grade One winner at the Cheltenham Festival with Mares’ Hurdle victor Black Tears while also saddling dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll as he bounced back to winning form with a wide-margin success in the cross country.

Elliott is now free to resume business at his County Meath yard and has five possibles at Punchestown.

Oh Purple Reign, who was a winner at Gowran for Foster on September 1, could be Elliott’s first runner back in the Donate To The Coast To The Curragh Cycle In Honour Of Pat Smullen Handicap, while Captain Middleton could contest the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Median Auction Maiden.

Both Alice Kitty and Royal Eagle have been entered in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Handicap, with Gift Of Kings his other contender of the day in the Irish Racing Working Together Handicap.

Elliott appears likely to have his first jumps runners back on track on Wednesday, having entered seven horses at Sligo.

He has a possible contender in each of the seven races on the card – although Chesterville and Silver Star both hold two optional engagements.

Davy Russell poised for imminent riding return

Davy Russell is looking forward to returning to race-riding in the next few weeks after nearly a year out through injury.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider has been on the sidelines since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick in October aboard Doctor Duffy.

Russell, 42, has been working hard on his fitness for the prospect of renewing his association with trainer Gordon Elliott, whose six-month ban for bringing racing into disrepute ends on September 9.

Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell at Aintree
Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell at Aintree (David Davies/PA)

“We’ve been putting a good old shift in now and it’s all coming together. We’re just waiting for a drop of rain for those better horses to come out,” he said.

“Me and Gordon work well together and he’s been a huge part of my career for a long time, so it’s great. I’ll be waiting to see what Gordon’s plan is and fit in with that.

“Fingers crossed I’ll be back as soon as possible. When the rain comes, and the ground is safe for those good horses to come out, we’ll be ready to rock.”

Simon McGonagle disqualified for nine months for taking Elliott picture

Simon McGonagle has been disqualified from racing for nine months at a referrals hearing of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board after being found responsible for taking the photograph that led to trainer Gordon Elliott’s suspension.

Seven months will be suspended for a period of one year, after which the disqualification lapses. The sanction takes effect from April 16.

The referral followed an IHRB investigation into an image circulating on social media which first came to their attention on February 27.

During the investigation, it was confirmed McGonagle, a head lad, took the photograph that incriminated Elliott.

Evidence was heard from McGonagle and Denise Foster, who is holding the licence at Cullentra House Stables while Elliott serves his suspension.

In his evidence, McGonagle outlined his experience and employment within racing over approximately 30 years, having been first employed by Elliott in 2007.

The committee heard McGonagle did not contest he took the photograph, that he captioned it and disseminated it to five friends. This ultimately led to the photograph becoming public from an unknown source. He accepted that “by virtue of his actions he was part of a chain of events that has caused damage to the integrity of racing and he fully understands the outrage expressed in relation to this image”.

The referrals committee found McGonagle had acted in a manner which was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horse racing.

In their findings, they concluded: “We will not repeat what has been said before about the awful image at the heart of this case. The taking of the image was ill-judged and in bad taste and we consider that Mr McGonagle should have known better as a head lad involved in the industry for a considerable time.

“As head lad he should also show a good example to others in the yard. However, we reiterate the points made in the Elliott case that this incident is not concerned with cruelty or horse welfare. Also, having heard the evidence in this case we are no further on as to how this image came into the public domain and we can reach no conclusions on that issue.

“We reach the sanction having considered all of the circumstances, aggravating and mitigating factors, bearing in mind the seriousness of the offence and the need for deterrence, and considering Mr McGonagle’s personal circumstances, in order to reach a proportionate result.”

Tiger rolls back the years to win at Cheltenham again

Tiger Roll was an incredible winner at the Cheltenham Festival for the fifth time when reclaiming his Glenfarclas Chase crown in scintillating fashion.

Having hitherto disappointed this season, it seemed the form that had seen him win back-to-back Grand Nationals was in the past.

But back at his favourite track and sent off the 9-2 second-favourite behind his conqueror from last season, Easysland, he looked a lot younger than his 11 years skipping round the cross-country course.

The French challenger briefly closed up and looked threatening, but it soon became apparent that Keith Donoghue had only given Tiger Roll a breather.

He quickly went clear again and rounding the home turn the race was over, with his only danger in front of him – but he skipped the last and powered home by 18 lengths from Easysland, with Some Neck third.

Now in the care of Denise Foster following long-time trainer Gordon Elliott’s well-chronicled ban, Tiger Roll usually runs in this race prior to heading to Aintree for the National, but the decision was taken a few weeks ago to take him out of the race as connections believed his handicap mark was unfair.

Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, said: “That was unbelievable – what a fantastic horse, we’re over the moon here. He’s a legend of a horse.

“There was a rush to retire this horse earlier in the season, but he’s a cross-country horse, that’s what he is, and we always said we’ll wait to see how he gets on over the cross-country fences once more. To win at five Festivals is amazing, what a horse.

“Aintree is off the agenda and we’ve no regrets about that. Both him and Easysland are rated too high. He is rated the equal of our Gold Cup horse, Delta Work, and we know he’s not as good.

“It’s going to be hard to retire him after that, now, and he loves racing in any case.

“He’ll probably have to run at Punchestown in the Grade One, where he will probably prove he is nowhere near a 166-rated horse, and it is a pity we have to do that.

“Cross-country racing got this horse back after he had completely lost his way, but we’ll have to go in a Grade One just to prove he has the wrong rating. He’s a cross-country horse, that’s what he is.

“Whatever we decide to do, and if he never wins another race, we will enjoy today.”

Donoghue said: “He really came alive today and jumped brilliant. I was in control of the race from halfway and within his comfort zone – when Tiger Roll is like that, you don’t take him back.

“We never doubted that we had him peaking for the right time. We were happy with his last run in Navan on ground that he absolutely hates.

“I knew the way he was going today, it would take a good horse to get by him.

“We had the faith and knew what this horse could show. There’s no better horse than Tiger Roll to silence the doubters.”

Tiger Roll came home well clear at Cheltenham
Tiger Roll came home well clear at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Lisa O’Neill, representing Foster, said: “He’s a sensation – words cannot describe what he is.

“He means so much to the team at home. Some people might have lost a bit of faith after his last few runs, but we retained all the faith we had in him and knew he still retained plenty of fire in his belly. He showed it there today.

“I suppose he disappointed here in November and then had a run over hurdles. Neither of those runs were too encouraging, but he tells you when he’s feeling alive at home and he loves coming to Cheltenham and coming up that hill and the sun on his back.

“He showed what ability he has today to turn the tables on Easysland from last year.

Tiger Roll (right) clears the barrels on his way to victory
Tiger Roll (right) clears the barrels on his way to victory (Michael Steele/PA)

“He’s been a revelation for Keith and Davy Russell, of course, winning two Grand Nationals.

“He showed real enthusiasm and sweetness for the game today.”

On not running in National, she added: “Gigginstown thought it was the best choice to take him out and I suppose they have his best interests at heart.

“We’ll go home and speak to the owners and see what the plan is then.”

There was a sad postscript to the race, as it emerged Kings Temptation suffered a fatal injury.

Clerk of the course Simon Claisse said: “Sadly the Ben Case-trained Kings Temptation suffered a forelimb fracture in the cross-country race and had to be euthanised.”

Envoi Allen heads Marsh hopefuls

Envoi Allen heads 14 confirmations for the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham next week.

The unbeaten star was in the headlines last week when owners Cheveley Park Stud decided to move him to Henry de Bromhead’s yard in the wake of the Gordon Elliott case.

Already a dual winner at the Festival, he is likely to be one of the shortest-priced favourites of the meeting.

Willie Mullins has left in Monkfish for Thursday’s Grade One, but he is expected to take up his option in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase over the longer trip of three miles the previous day.

Asterion Forlonge, Blackbow and Franco De Port are Mullins’ other Marsh possibles.

Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue, a Grade One winner already this season, and Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House, lead the home team.

Chatham Street Lad, an impressive handicap winner at Cheltenham in December, is also engaged.

All the major players are still in the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, better known as the Dawn Run.

They include Roseys Hollow, Royal Kahala, Gauloise, Hook Up and The Glancing Queen.

There are 31 left in the Pertemps Final – with the weights currently headed by The Bosses Oscar, now in the care of Denise Foster, and Harry Fry’s veteran Unowhatimeanharry.

Fergal O’Brien, still searching for his first Festival winner, has high hopes for Imperial Alcazar.

David Pipe’s Brinkley, Henderson’s Champagne Platinum and Tom George’s Come On Teddy have also all stood their ground.

The Paddy Power Plate has some quality at the head of the weights – which are topped by the Venentia Williams-trained Fanion D’Estruval.

Henderson’s duo of Top Notch and Caribean Boy, Sue Smith’s Midnight Shadow and O’Brien’s Paint The Dream all have smart form to their name.

In total 36 have been left in, and theyalso  include the Emmet Mullins-trained The Shunter – winner of the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso and chasing a £100,000 bonus. He still holds several entries through the week.

Double Shuffle leads the way in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup – which this year sees professional jockeys take the place of amateurs.

Kerry Lee’s Storm Control, the Philip Hobbs-trained Deise Aba and the ante-post favourite, Jonjo O’Neill’s Time To Get Up, are among the 31 remaining.

Jack Kennedy to partner Galvin in National Hunt Chase

Jack Kennedy is to ride Galvin in the Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

Galvin has proven course form and is second-favourite for the three-and-three-quarter mile stamina test behind Royale Pagaille.

The seven-year-old has performed creditably at previous Festivals, finishing sixth in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2019 and runner-up to Imperial Aura in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase last year.

Galvin has won all his four starts since then, the latest coming over an extended three miles at Cheltenham in October.

He had been trained by Gordon Elliott, but with the County Meath handler suspended he is being looked after by County Antrim trainer Ian Ferguson, who has had a long association with Galvin’s owner Ronnie Bartlett. He bought Galvin for 34,000 euros at the sales in 2017.

“I look after Mr Bartlett’s horses, buy his horses for him and things. It’s no stranger for me to have Galvin in my yard,” said Ferguson.

“He came in good shape and he seems that way. We were just looking after him until he runs.

“The horse seems well and this was always the target he had from early on in the year. Hopefully he gets there safe and well.

“Jack Kennedy rides.”