Gordon Elliott’s string in fine form as Cheltenham looms on horizon

Virtually on the eve of the Cheltenham festival, where he hopes to have about fifteen runners, trainer Gordon Elliott doubled-up with favourites Akorakor and Alberta in Downpatrick yesterday.

Gordon Elliott’s string in fine form as Cheltenham looms on horizon

Alberta, which Elliott bought from Turlough O’Connor since his debut second in Cork, stretched clear up the hill to beat market rival Hot On Her Heels, a debutante representing Willie Mullins, by eight and a half lengths, producing the most impressive performance of the day.

The Elliott double had been initiated when 4/9 favourite Akorakor, Bryan Cooper’s only ride of the day, belatedly opened his account over hurdles with a smooth, six lengths win over Mystic Princess in the Easy Does It Maiden Hurdle.

The Gigginstown owned six-year-old is now unbeaten in three outings for Elliott who commented: “It wasn’t a strong race and he was dropping in class. We’ll try to find another little race for him somewhere.”

Jonathan Burke was also successful on his only ride, Autumn Shades, which gave trainer Mark Molloy a first success on the track since October 2009 in the Irish Stallion Farms Mares Maiden Hurdle.

The daughter of Vinnie Roe stayed on well up the hill to keep longshot Kanjo at bay, to the delight of Molloy, who said: “I think a hell of a lot of this mare and she deserved this. She has plenty of pace, but is really a chaser.”

Barry Geraghty carried the colours of J P McManus to victory in the Irish Jockeys Association Novice Handicap Hurdle when 11/8 favourite Jumptpconclusions beat Feel The Air by four lengths.

The winner is trained by Edward O’Grady, who suggested: “The race panned out for him, with the second favourite pulling up and a couple of fallers. He was fortunate, but I’m delighted with him. I’ll try to find another similar handicap for him.”

Tom Mullins has had his string in excellent shape in this pre-Cheltenham period and struck again when Annie Alainn, off the course since July 2012 and having her first run for her current handler, swooped late under the trainer’s son David to thwart top-weight Disputed in the ITBA Northern Region Handicap Hurdle.

Mullins admitted: “I know she’s lowly-rated, but she has shown plenty at home, working with better horses. She’s has her share of problems and I thought I’d have her ready for Listowel last year, but it was well worth the wait.”

John Beamish, who trains in Carrigtwohill, County Cork, saddled his first winner when Magical Mother, backed at big prices in the morning and ridden by Kevin Sexton, proved a shock winner of the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase.

The 14/1 shot proved too strong for top-weight and favourite Ardmillan, prompting her trainer to comment: “She’s shown some of her old spark over the last few weeks, but we’ve tried everything with her – schooling and hunting.”

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