PAT KEANE: Gordon Elliott still value in title battle with Willie Mullins

The battle between Colin Keane and Pat Smullen, for the flat jockeys’ championship, didn’t half-light up that campaign but, you suspect, it will be nothing compared to what’s in store over the coming months, as Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott again go head-to-head for the National Hunt trainers’ title, writes Pat Keane.

Last season, Elliott did everything bar dethrone the 11-times winner, Mullins, only giving best in the latter part of the Punchestown festival.

Mullins eventually emerged in front by just under €200,000, after winning a whopping €937,000 over the five days of Punchestown.

Elliott led until literally the dying strides, after proclaiming for many months that he had no chance of beating Mullins. When it was finally done and dusted, Elliott admitted to being ‘heartbroken.’

Already this season Elliott has lost three very high-profile horses in Fayonagh, Mega Fortune and Lucky Pass.

The superb Fayonagh, successful in the Wetherbys’ Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March, died on the gallops at home.

The imposing Mega Fortune, who seemed to have a real-future as a chaser, was going to win by half the track when taking a fatal fall at the second last flight at Limerick, while Lucky Pass slipped and died just beyond the finishing line, after easily taking a maiden hurdle at Galway.

To any normal stable losing such horses would have been a disaster, at least in a racing sense, but Elliott’s is no normal yard.

Elliott, a bit like Mullins when those 60 Gigginstown horses departed, has just shrugged off the setbacks, got on with business and continued to bang in the winners.

Last weekend was a real statement of intent, as he landed six races, between Naas on Saturday and Navan on Sunday, three more followed at Fairyhouse on Wednesday and then four at Clonmel on Thursday.

The million-dollar question is can he actually turn over Mullins this season? Well, Paddy Power are betting on the match and they clearly believe Elliott is going to have to wait a bit longer before winning his first title. Earlier this week they were going 1-4 Mullins and 11-4 Elliott, but that was changed yesterday to 1-3 and 9-4.

Right now, he leads Mullins by about €177,000. Elliott is on 100 winners for the season and Mullins on 93, but that tells only part of the story.

Mullins has had about 250 less runners than Elliott and has a far better strike rate. Elliott’s rate, given he has had 550 runners or so, stands at a respectable 18% or so. Mullins’, however, is an astonishing 33%.

Given those statistics then it is easy to see that the Mullins camp has been slow to hit full flow, numerically, which is typical, but a major increase in runners and winners is surely about to start.

Elliott, though, has savage firepower and may well have no trouble going toe-to-toe with his rival. Basically, you would have to say Paddy Power have got the betting right, but if you have a strong fancy for Elliott then that 9-4 still represents good value.

In the meantime, it is crystal clear Gigginstown’s decision not to employ a retained jockey is working a treat.

They can call on Jack Kennedy and Davy Russell whenever they want, at least most of the time, and Sean Flanagan has fairly delivered when partnering the Gigginstown horses with Noel Meade and aboard Mouse Morris’ Alpha Des Obeaux at Clonmel on Thursday.

I wonder, though, if Michael and Eddie O’Leary ever dwell for a moment on when they largely deprived themselves of the services of both Ruby Walsh and Paul Carberry, in the days of the retained pilot.

I wonder as well if there is another Flanagan lurking somewhere in Irish racing. He was a journeyman for years, until replacing Carberry as number one to Meade. Chances are, of course, he was always a top jockey who just didn’t get to opportunity until now to showcase his talents.

Kennedy, in contrast, has never been short of opportunities and is developing into some rider.

I love the way he keeps it simple and has a delightful tendency to ride his horses forward, Apple’s Jade and Mengli Khan being two good examples at Navan last Sunday.

THERE can be little doubt that Footpad if he stays sound, obviously, will take very high order over fences.

He made his debut at that game in a beginners’ chase at Navan on Sunday and the word was more than positive.

But nothing could have prepared us for the immaculate display of jumping he produced. In the end Footpad never broke sweat to slam the admittedly weak finisher, Brelade, by 11 lengths and it was some start.

The five-year-old was a more than useful hurdler, as evidenced by his fourth placing behind Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Essentially, however, it is clear now that Footpad was really wasting his time popping across flights and was born to jump a fence.

IF a horse is offered on the exchanges at a price that seems too good to be true then the wisest course of action is nearly always to resist temptation.

Mind you Oscar Wilde once said: “I can resist everything except temptation’’ and, if he was around last weekend, might have had a real touch!

Gordon Elliott’s Mossback took a beginners’ chase at Naas at odds of 33-1, but there were periods on the exchanges when you could have had well in excess of 200-1.

When such as that is available it generally means those willing to lay you have reason to believe, or think they have a reason, there is no way this will be delivering.

They might know it has schooled badly, is short of peak fitness, or simply formed the opinion that, on form, it wouldn’t win if it started the day before.

But Mossback was transformed by fences and took a tidy contest in fine style. There seems little doubt that the odd player or two had his fingers burnt.

Likewise, it was difficult enough to understand why so many punters were determined to lay Willie Mullins’ Next Destination, so impressive when taking a maiden hurdle at Naas.

A creditable fourth behind Fayonagh at Cheltenham in March, he could be backed at over 6-1 on the exchanges, which was rather remarkable.

As a regular on the exchanges, I often ponder why such as Betfair was ever allowed to literally change the face of racing in Britain and Ireland?


Lifestyle

Last week, I wrote about 'small is beautiful' as a key to an improved environment for all living things after this Covid crisis is finally over. As I wrote, I saw, in the mind's eye, the village where I live in west Cork and from which my wife and I are temporarily exiled.Damien Enright: Community spirit can ensure we pull through - together

Fifty years ago, a fox was spotted in Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green. The unfortunate animal was chased by local ‘gurriers’. It took refuge in a tree but was promptly stoned to death.Richard Collins: Wildlife taking back the streets of our cities

The north pier on Cape Clear has been eerily quiet these last few months as no visitors disembark. The ferry is not unloading boatloads of tourists from Baltimore, 45 minutes away, or from Schull, as it would normally.The Islands of Ireland: Cape Clear tells its side of the story

If the Donegal postman and amateur weather forecaster has it right, we could be in for water shortages in the coming months. Michael Gallagher, who predicted the scorching summer of 2018 and the 2010 freeze-up, says we’ll have a ‘lovely’ summer.Donal Hickey: Demand for water to soar

More From The Irish Examiner