The County Meath maestro has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the eight-year-old, proclaiming after he completed a hat-trick of bumper victories at Fairyhouse in April 2012: “If I was a horse I’d sleep with him, he’s that good.”
A novice campaign over hurdles the following season was merely marking time and he showed his true worth over fences last season, grabbing Grade One glory in the Drinmore Novice Chase and running well in defeat on numerous occasions.
Elliott believes his charge is even better this season and it is difficult to argue judged on a couple of impressive victories at Punchestown and Down Royal.
With Gigginstown House Stud’s retained rider Bryan Cooper sidelined by suspension, Brian O’Connell comes in for the plum ride.
“I’m very happy with him and the ground won’t do him any harm. He won a Grade One for us (as a novice), but he looks a stronger and better horse this year,” said Elliott.
“Brian (O’Connell) was here this morning and sat on him for a little canter and popped over three fences. I think he jumps and he travels and he’s got a bit of class.
“We’re just learning about the horse the whole time and we’re very happy with him, he’s in very good form.
“They say it doesn’t look a strong race, any Grade One is strong but it looks a winnable type of race so we’re just hoping he can put a clear round in and put up a good show for himself.
“I’d be very hopeful that he’ll go very close.”
The horse expected to give Don Cossack most to think about is the Willie Mullins-trained Boston Bob, who ended last season in fantastic form by winning the Melling Chase at Aintree and the Punchestown Gold Cup.
He was a distant third when favourite for his reappearance in last month’s JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, but the champion trainer expects his charge to strip much fitter for the run. Mullins said: “He’ll improve for his run in Down Royal and we know the track suits him well. We’re happy with how he’s going at home and we’re hoping for a big run.”
Despite being the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup hero, Lord Windermere is a double-figure price as he makes his return over what is likely to be an inadequate distance of two and a half miles.
Trainer Jim Culloty is delighted with the condition of his stable star as he makes his first appearance since that thrilling but controversial renewal of the blue riband at Prestbury Park in March, but admits he is likely to improve for the outing.
“He’s fit, he’s well, he looks very well. Touch wood he’s schooled well and everything has gone well with him, we’ve had a clear run,” Culloty said.
“It is a slightly inadequate trip we are running over but out of the few choices there are in Ireland this seemed the most suitable so I’m happy for him to take his chance.
“If he runs a good solid race and comes back in one piece I’ll be happy enough, it’s not all about winning but obviously he’ll be trying his best.
“He had decent form over hurdles and started off over two miles over fences but that was due to an exceptionally wet winter and we gradually stepped him up in trip.
“It could be a test of speed on Sunday as Punchestown is quite a quick track.
“Having said all that, he’s not a slow horse and he should be able to acquit himself quite well but there’s no doubt he’ll be better over further.”
Noel Meade’s Texas Jack makes his first appearance since finishing fourth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February.
Baily Green and Rathlin complete a six-strong field.