Trainer Gordon Elliott opened the doors to his Cullentra House Stables in County Meath today at a media event organised by The Jockey Club ahead of The Cheltenham Festival (Tuesday 14th March to Friday 17th March inclusive).
Looking ahead to The Festival, which he has trained 34 winners at already, Elliott said: “Most of the horses have probably had their last runs now, so we’re picking and choosing where to go.
“We’ve got a nice bunch, with a few going under the radar I think, so it’s exciting and I can’t wait to get over.
“We’ve probably started the season as easy as we’ve ever been to our horses. A lot needed the run first time out, but we’re getting there now. We’ve a good bunch of horses and it is exciting times. We’ve got some nice bumper horses as well as novice hurdlers and chasers as well.”
Elliott’s principal jockey is Jack Kennedy, who is currently sidelined following a broken leg sustained at Naas in early January. Kennedy’s predicament caused Elliott’s previous number one rider Davy Russell, who had announced his retirement in December, to make an unexpected return to the saddle.
Explaining the current situation, Elliott said: “We’re keeping everything crossed for Jack. He’s going to the hospital on Thursday and then he’s going to Dubai for a week to get a bit of sun.
“It will be tight (to be fit to ride at The Festival) and he knows that, but if he’s back he’ll be riding everything. He’s number one now and all these horses are waiting for him to come back.
“Davy got a couple of bruised ribs the other day so he’s a bit sore, but he’s made of steel so he’ll be fine. Davy knows that he’s to step back once Jack is fit again – but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was at Cheltenham with his bags should anything go wrong!
“If it was three or six months’ later, the conversation would never have happened. Jordan (Gainford) and Sam (Ewing) would have stepped straight in, they’re two young and very talented lads, but I just felt it was right to get Davy back in – I’m just trying to do the right thing for them and bring them on quietly. It’s a big thing to go over to the Cheltenham Festival and ride a favourite.
“I’d say Jack would want to have some rides on the Saturday or Sunday before Cheltenham. You’d think if he isn’t able to do that, he probably won’t be ready for the Tuesday. I’d say Davy will be over (at Cheltenham) riding each morning and should Jack not be available he’ll be ready. I haven’t even had the conversation with Davy to be honest - at the moment we’re looking at Jack being back.
“Jack has been luckless but he’s only 23 years of age and to have achieved what he has is amazing. He’s been racing with us since his injury, and he’s got a great attitude and he’s so laid back.”
Tuesday 14th March
1.30pm Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Absolute Notions, American Mike, Amir Kabir, Doctor Bravo, Imagine. Irish Point. Itswhatunitesus, Landrake. Sa Fureur
Irish Point: “I’d say he just wants a trip, if you watch it back from the weekend he was actually closest at the line. He jumped well but he was flat out the whole way, they went a very good gallop. He’ll step up in trip but I might not even run him to be honest, unless it comes up very soft.”
2.10pm Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Fil Dor, Hollow Games, Mighty Potter
3.30pm Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)
Pied Piper, Zanahiyr
Pied Piper: “He had a fibrillating heart at Christmas and was beaten after three hurdles. I thought he ran a good race at the weekend (in the Irish Champion Hurdle) and I thought Zanahiyr ran a good race too.”
4.10pm Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
5.30pm National Hunt Chase (Grade 2)
Chemical Energy, Fakiera, Frontal Assault, Gerri Colombe, Minella Crooner
Wednesday 15th March
1.30pm Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Abbeydale, Absolute Notions, American Mike, Bob Cigar, Caldwell Diamond, Cool Survivor, Doctor Bravo, Favori De Champdou, Firm Footings, Imagine, Irish Point, Itswhatunitesus, Landrake, Present Soldier, Sa Fureur, Santonito, Three Card Brag, Zettabyte
2:10pm Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Gerri Colombe, Mighty Potter, Minella Crooner
Gerri Colombe: “I think the further it goes the better he’ll be. He’s a very unassuming horse and he wouldn’t be very exciting at home, but he knows how to win. I loved that when the horse passed him the other day at Sandown he dropped his head and it’s a great thing to see.
“It was a big jumping test but he got into a beautiful rhythm. He’s a gorgeous horse, he’s a big-old fashioned chaser and he was fine travelling to England the other day. He’ll go straight there now.”
4:10pm Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase
Entries released on February 28th
Delta Work: “I was delighted with his run at Cheltenham last week, I think he was giving the winner (Back On The Lash) 16lbs and the runner-up (Deise Aba) 18lbs, so off level weights he looks thrown in and he’ll improve plenty for that.
“He was the villain last year! It would have been the perfect send off for Tiger Roll but it wasn’t to be and he got a great reception either way, so it was nice to see.”
5:30pm Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1)
Entries released on February 28th
“Better Days Ahead will go straight to Cheltenham now. John Kiely’s horse (A Dream To Share) was impressive the other day but the bumper horses in Ireland are maybe not be as strong as they have been. My horse is a good horse. Kings Of Kingsfield will run in it as will the horse who won at Leopardstown (Pour Les Filles). We should have three in the race.
“If going for the Bumper isn’t the right thing to do we won’t do it, they need a good attitude to go for it. It’s a race we won with Envoi Allen and Fayonagh – and I had a strong part to play in Sir Gerhard too – and it’s not a race for every horse.
“No Time To Wait looked a good horse at Down Royal and will be entered in the race but I’m not sure whether it would be the right thing to do at this stage of his career.”
Thursday 16th March
1.30pm Turners Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Hollow Games, Fil Dor, Mighty Potter
Mighty Potter: “He’s been relaxing and jumping great in all of his races so far. It’s only when you watch his replays back that you realise how good he’s been. He was only getting into top gear as the race was over at Leopardstown at the weekend, so it was a nice performance.
“He’s a big horse now but he was every bit as big last year and quite gangly. If you look at the re-run of the Supreme last year he just never got into a rhythm, I think he landed on top of one of his hurdles and once he’s done that it was race over.
“He’s an unassuming type of horse and it wouldn’t frighten me dropping him back to two miles if I had to, but at the moment we’re going for middle distance races. If Gerri was going for the middle distance races we might’ve dropped him back in trip but that’s the way we’re going.
“We’ve had a few nice novices over the last few years but I’d say he’s bang up there, he’s exciting. Leopardstown was an easier watch second time around, when you see five of Willie’s either side of you, it wasn’t an easy watch!
“He’s got so much talent that everything is almost too easy for him at home, so I’d say he learned an awful lot at Fairyhouse in December.”
2.50pm Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)
Conflated, Fury Road
3.30pm Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Sire Du Berlais, Teahupoo, Zanahiyr
Teahupoo: “I would say he was taken off his feet over two miles last year. He’s not a big heavy horse but I don’t see why he wouldn’t be alright over three miles. It’s not going to be very quick ground and if you listen to Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty over the years talking about Stayers’ Hurdle horses, you have to be behind the pace and relax. That’s exactly how Teahupoo is and nothing fazes him.
“It’s probably the most open of the ‘Championship’ races, especially as Gavin Cromwell’s horse (Flooring Porter) is only 50-50 to get there.
“He was very good at Fairyhouse (when winning the Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in December) and the form is working out. He wouldn’t impress you at home, but he seems to do it on the track.
“I’d say if you look at his runs at Cheltenham and Punchestown last year he was just swept off his feet over two miles – we were trying to make him a quicker horse and he just isn’t. He looks like he’s really found his niche over the longer trips, at Fairyhouse he was doing his best work at the finish and he was very good over three miles the last day.
“I thought we had a squeak in the Champion Hurdle last season, but he was just taken off his feet, but he relaxes really well in his races and that lets him stay three miles.”
Friday 17th March
1.30pm JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)
Jazzy Matty, Media Naranja, Weston
2.50pm Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Absolute Notions, American Mike, Bob Cigar, Cool Survivor, Favori De Champdou, Firm Footings, Harmonya Maker, Imagine, Jungle Prose, Present Soldier, Santonito, Search For Glory, Three Card Brag, Will Do, Zettabyte
Three Card Brag: “He’ll probably go for the three-mile race (Albert Bartlett), as will Favori De Champdou. Cool Survivor ran well the other day, but we might look at the Martin Pipe with him. Absolute Notions doesn’t look as though he’ll be badly handicapped so we could look at something for him too.”
American Mike: “Unfortunately we couldn’t run him the other day. He scoped bad after Navan the last day as there was something wrong with him, so we’ve missed a little part of the season. I was looking forward to running him the other day but we couldn’t run him for personal reasons.
“It’s hard to find races for him, he’s entered at Navan on Sunday in a Listed race over two miles which isn’t ideal but I need to get a run into him to knock the freshness off.
“American Mike and Three Card Brag are two similar horses in that they don’t show much at home and are very laid back. They keep all their best work at the track and are two big chasers in the making. I’d imagine both will go for the Albert Bartlett – if the race was tomorrow that’s what they’d be going for.”
3.30pm Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) (Grade 1)
Conflated, Fury Road, Galvin
Conflated: “He can run well fresh, and I thought it may suit him to go there fresh and well. I probably ran him in the wrong race last year (in the Ryanair Chase) but the way he ran at Aintree (when second in last season’s Betway Bowl) and at Leopardstown over Christmas (when winning the Grade One Savills Chase in December) suggests that this is his trip.
“He’s a good horse and he’s actually settled down a lot in the past year or so. He wasn’t straightforward but he’s a lot more professional and you can ride a race on him - the race used to be over before you could put him into it. I think it’s an open Gold Cup and we’ve got a chance. I think the extra couple of furlongs will suit us better to be honest, if you look at the way he stayed at Leopardstown I think he’s made for it.
“I suppose that the fact Fury Road led over the last (in the Irish Gold Cup) would give me a lot of hope that Conflated can run a good race. Galopin Des Champs sets the standard and he’s the horse we all have to beat but I think we’re in the mix.
“I thought watching the replay that Galopin was actually more impressive than on first look, Paul (Townend) had him asleep and it took a little while for him to wake up but he picked up well and crossed the line well. We’re in the mix but I wouldn’t mind having him!”
Gordon Elliott’s 34 Cheltenham Festival winners
2011 Chicago Grey - National Hunt Chase
2011 Carlito Brigante - Coral Cup
2013 Flaxen Flare - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
2014 Tiger Roll - JCB Triumph Hurdle
2015 Cause Of Causes - National Hunt Chase
2016 Diamond King - Coral Cup
2016 Cause Of Causes - Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
2016 Don Cossack - Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup
2017 Labaik - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
2017 Apple’s Jade - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle
2017 Tiger Roll - National Hunt Chase
2017 Cause Of Causes - Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
2017 Fayonagh - Weatherbys Champion Bumper
2017 Champagne Classic - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle
2018 Samcro - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
2018 Tiger Roll - Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
2018 Veneer Of Charm - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
2018 Shattered Love - Turners Novices’ Chase
2018 Delta Work – Pertemp Final Handicap Hurdle
2018 The Storyteller - Festival Plate Handicap Chase
2018 Farclas - JCB Triumph Hurdle
2018 Blow By Blow - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle
2019 Tiger Roll - Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
2019 Envoi Allen - Weatherbys Champion Bumper
2019 Sire Du Berlais – Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
2020 Ravenhill - National Hunt Chase
2020 Envoi Allen - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
2020 Aramax - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
2020 Samcro - Turners Novices’ Chase
2020 Sire Du Berlais - Pertemps Network Final
2020 Milan Native Fulke - Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
2020 Chosen Mate - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase
2022 Commander Of Fleet – Coral Cup
2022 Delta Work – Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase