Gordon Elliott doesn’t hail from an equine background, but this is certainly not preventing his rise to the training summit.
The Meath man was catapulted into the limelight as a 29 year old rookie in 2007 following the victory of Silver Birch in the Aintree Grand National. As was widely publicised at the time, Elliott was yet to train a winner in his home country at that stage. However, visits to the winner’s enclosure have scarcely stopped since.
Elliott will travel to Ballybrit with a team of around 15 horses and with the stable experiencing something of a purple-patch at the moment, enjoying a four-timer at Downpatrick a fortnight ago and 23 winners in total on the domestic scene since the beginning of the new season, it would be something of a disappointment if there wasn’t at least one trip to the winner’s enclosure during the week.
Wednesday’s Tote Sponsored Plate and Thursday’s Guinness Galway Hurdle are the two most prestigious handicaps on the summer calendar and both races are being targeted by the yard.
The trainer runs Cause of Causes in the Plate and the six-year-old has course form on his side having finished second to Rebel Fitz in the 2012 Galway Hurdle. He was fancied for the Kim Muir at Cheltenham, but made a bad mistake at the last fence and was caught on the line by the Jim Culloty trained Spring Heeled.
However, on paper, Galway Hurdle contender Bayan has the better chance in the country’s richest race over the smaller obstacles. The Danehill Dancer gelding ran an extremely encouraging prep race in a mile and six handicap at Leopardstown a fortnight ago.
The improving five-year-old is another which was placed at Cheltenham- running third in the Coral Cup. Indeed, if it wasn’t for some poor luck in running throughout the notoriously chaotic 28 runner handicap, Bayan may even have secured the major honours in March.
However Elliott, who has gained the reputation for having them ready for the big occasion, will be hoping that fortune is on his side this coming week.
Thursday’s feature is undoubtedly a contest which the trainer admits he would love to win: “We’ve been placed in it for the past four years so hopefully we won’t be too far away this year. Bayan is in good form, we were very happy with him after Leopardstown, he won fairly snugly and wasn’t knocked around so it’s all systems go.
“Davy Condon will probably take the ride. The ground doesn’t make that much difference to him, John Maloney and his team do a fantastic job there and they know what they are doing.”
The canny Elliott has protected Bayan’s jumping mark and it looks like he’ll be getting in on a nice racing weight of under 11 stone.
“We kept him especially for the Galway Hurdle; this has been the plan since Cheltenham so hopefully it will work out for us. He stayed on well up the hill in Cheltenham so with any luck he’ll do the same next week, but as it stands, we really couldn’t be happier with the horse and we’re looking forward to the race.”
The handler is known within the game as an extremely shrewd operator who prefers to let his horses do the talking but when pressed nominates what he believes are his more fancied chances.
“Sister Slew is a horse that won on the flat at the festival last year and is another we’re keen on. She will run on the level one of the days.
“A smart mare of ours, Clara McCloud, will go for the handicap hurdle on Saturday. She’s very well and we’d be hopeful she would give a good account of herself. I also have a nice horse called Itchymei’scratch — as long as the ground doesn’t get too quick — who’ll go for the winners’ bumper on Sunday. He needs a trip so should stay on well up the hill. We think a bit of him, he’s an honest horse and stay’s very well.”
The 36-year-old believes his team is in peak-shape to run to the best of their abilities throughout the seven-day extravaganza. “They are running really well thankfully, we have a great team of people in the yard and it’s all down to them. The prize-money is great in Galway. It’s certainly always nice to have a winner there, if we get one on the board, we’ll be delighted, and anything after that will be a bonus.”
The trainer admits that — akin to the masses — he enjoys Galway for the renowned atmosphere and social scene as much as the action trackside. “We’re really looking forward to it, it’s the place everyone wants to be for that week, a crowd of us go down and hopefully we’ll get a bit of fine weather to add to it, as the craic is always good!”
But joking aside, the youngest man ever to train a Grand National winner is unquestionably looking forward to a very bright future. Leaving the current Willie Mullins stronghold on the Irish National Hunt scene aside, it certainly won’t surprise too many if Elliott is vying for Champion trainer honours sooner rather than later. This young man though is a master of understatement and won’t be getting too carried away with achievements thus far. “We have a lovely bunch of young horses coming through, please God they stay sound and things continue to go as well as they have been and we’ll see where it takes us.”