Finally, someone has emerged as a real challenger to Willie Mullins

He may have a fair way to go to be in the Willie Mullins league, but Gordon Elliott is getting there - and quickly writes Pat Keane.

Finally, someone has emerged as a real challenger to Willie Mullins

Last weekend there were two bumpers run in Ireland, at Fairyhouse on Saturday and Punchestown on Sunday, and Elliott won both of them.

They emphasised the growing quality within his stable and, just like Mullins, indicate a system that doesn’t half possess the wherewithal to source future racecourse winners.

Mullins has been doing this for years, whether it’s horses from France or the point-to-point fields.

Elliott may not be a big player in the French market, but is clearly now a major force when it comes to identifying horses from between the flags that have the ability to make a decent splash on the racecourse.

He won the mares’ bumper at Fairyhouse with the imposing Whistle Dixie. She has always been owned by Gigginstown and began by winning her only point-to-point at Lemonfield.

In the care then of Pat Doyle, she beat a horse called Travel Ogue by just half a length.

The same Travel Ogue was running off a very modest 88 recently when last of the 21 finishers in a handicap hurdle at Navan, hardly a ringing endorsement for Whistle Dixie.

But this daughter Kayf Tara won in fine style at Limerick at Christmas and hardly broke sweat in better company at Fairyhouse.

But even more eye-catching was Elliott’s General Principle, who took the bumper at Punchestown by 22 lengths.

He ran in just one point prior to that racecourse debut, winning easily at Kirkistown in November. There was no way of knowing, however, whether the form amounted to a hill of beans.

The contest housed only five runners and three finishers. The runner up was a horse called Bartons Brae and he hasn’t been seen in the meantime.

When, however, General Principle came up for sale at Cheltenham in December, Gigginstown gave £80,000 for him. On the basis of what we saw at Punchestown that was a real nice bit of business.

Elliott initially came to prominence, as a trainer, at the age of 29 when his first ever entry in the Aintree Grand National, Silver Birch, won the race in 2007.

Life is littered with one-hit wonders, but Elliott has built on it to such an extent that he can now be regarded as the second best trainer of National Hunt horses in this country.

But he still has a massive road to travel if becoming champion trainer some day is going to be realistic.

This season he has trained 74 winners, for prize money in excess of €1m. Mullins, though, has 133 winners and €2.2m in the coffers.

The game has been crying out for someone to emerge as real challenger to the Mullins dominance. I think he has arrived!

In a point-to-point at Maralin last March, a four-year-old maiden was won by Mahler Lad, who beat Bellshill and Bordini.

Subsequently, Bellshill and Bordini came to be trained by Willie Mullins. Bellshill has since run in two bumpers, winning at Thurles and then going down by a length to Dermot Weld’s Vigil at Leopardstown.

Bordini has done even better, taking both his bumpers impressively, at Punchestown and Navan.

The puzzle, though, is why didn’t Mahler Lad end up with Mullins as well? He reappeared, trained by Donald McCain, at Newcastle recently and went off at 4-5, also in a bumper.

Watching the horse the only conclusion to be drawn is that he couldn’t run to warm himself, trailing in twenty-one and a half lengths third.

Bordini, in particular, and Bellshill currently take high order in the betting for the bumper at Cheltenham.

Meanwhile, on Newcastle running, Mahler Lad’s future lies in moderate races in the north of England.

It was great to see Hidden Cyclone doing the business for Shark Hanlon at Punchestown on Sunday and most punters were financially better off, after he had slammed Bright New Dawn by an unflattering five lengths.

But surely the notion that he is a live candidate for Cheltenham’s two-mile Champion Chase is a trifle fanciful.

If Hidden Cyclone was ever going to win a decent prize it was at Punchestown, with the conditions of the contest very much in his favour.

He went into the race rated 11lbs better than Bright New Dawn and getting 6lbs off him.

And the only other danger, Twinlight, was running back relatively quickly after finishing third at Ascot, was conceding Hidden Cyclone 8lbs and has two ways of running anyway.

Hidden Cyclone is more than entitled to take his chance at Cheltenham and there are obvious question marks against the likes of Sprinter Scare and Sire De Grugy.

But it still requires a giant leap of faith at the same time to envisage him actually winning.

He may have a fair way to go to be in the Willie Mullins league, but Gordon Elliott is getting there - and quickly.

Last weekend there were two bumpers run in Ireland, at Fairyhouse on Saturday and Punchestown on Sunday, and Elliott won both of them.

They emphasised the growing quality within his stable and, just like Mullins, indicate a system that doesn’t half possess the wherewithal to source future racecourse winners.

Mullins has been doing this for years, whether it’s horses from France or the point-to-point fields.

Elliott may not be a big player in the French market, but is clearly now a major force when it comes to identifying horses from between the flags that have the ability to make a decent splash on the racecourse.

He won the mares’ bumper at Fairyhouse with the imposing Whistle Dixie. She has always been owned by Gigginstown and began by winning her only point-to-point at Lemonfield.

In the care then of Pat Doyle, she beat a horse called Travel Ogue by just half a length.

The same Travel Ogue was running off a very modest 88 recently when last of the 21 finishers in a handicap hurdle at Navan, hardly a ringing endorsement for Whistle Dixie.

But this daughter Kayf Tara won in fine style at Limerick at Christmas and hardly broke sweat in better company at Fairyhouse.

But even more eye-catching was Elliott’s General Principle, who took the bumper at Punchestown by 22 lengths.

He ran in just one point prior to that racecourse debut, winning easily at Kirkistown in November. There was no way of knowing, however, whether the form amounted to a hill of beans.

The contest housed only five runners and three finishers. The runner up was a horse called Bartons Brae and he hasn’t been seen in the meantime.

When, however, General Principle came up for sale at Cheltenham in December, Gigginstown gave £80,000 for him. On the basis of what we saw at Punchestown that was a real nice bit of business.

Elliott initially came to prominence, as a trainer, at the age of 29 when his first ever entry in the Aintree Grand National, Silver Birch, won the race in 2007.

Life is littered with one-hit wonders, but Elliott has built on it to such an extent that he can now be regarded as the second best trainer of National Hunt horses in this country.

But he still has a massive road to travel if becoming champion trainer some day is going to be realistic.

This season he has trained 74 winners, for prize money in excess of €1m. Mullins, though, has 133 winners and €2.2m in the coffers.

The game has been crying out for someone to emerge as real challenger to the Mullins dominance. I think he has arrived!

In a point-to-point at Maralin last March, a four-year-old maiden was won by Mahler Lad, who beat Bellshill and Bordini.

Subsequently, Bellshill and Bordini came to be trained by Willie Mullins. Bellshill has since run in two bumpers, winning at Thurles and then going down by a length to Dermot Weld’s Vigil at Leopardstown.

Bordini has done even better, taking both his bumpers impressively, at Punchestown and Navan.

The puzzle, though, is why didn’t Mahler Lad end up with Mullins as well? He reappeared, trained by Donald McCain, at Newcastle recently and went off at 4-5, also in a bumper.

Watching the horse the only conclusion to be drawn is that he couldn’t run to warm himself, trailing in twenty-one and a half lengths third.

Bordini, in particular, and Bellshill currently take high order in the betting for the bumper at Cheltenham.

Meanwhile, on Newcastle running, Mahler Lad’s future lies in moderate races in the north of England.

It was great to see Hidden Cyclone doing the business for Shark Hanlon at Punchestown on Sunday and most punters were financially better off, after he had slammed Bright New Dawn by an unflattering five lengths.

But surely the notion that he is a live candidate for Cheltenham’s two-mile Champion Chase is a trifle fanciful.

If Hidden Cyclone was ever going to win a decent prize it was at Punchestown, with the conditions of the contest very much in his favour.

He went into the race rated 11lbs better than Bright New Dawn and getting 6lbs off him.

And the only other danger, Twinlight, was running back relatively quickly after finishing third at Ascot, was conceding Hidden Cyclone 8lbs and has two ways of running anyway.

Hidden Cyclone is more than entitled to take his chance at Cheltenham and there are obvious question marks against the likes of Sprinter Scare and Sire De Grugy.

But it still requires a giant leap of faith at the same time to envisage him actually winning.

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