Things We Learned » Elliott goes meteoric

Elliott goes meteoric

To have five winners at one meeting on one day is phenomenal.  To have seven winners on one day at two different meetings is (insert superlative of choice here).  But to have six winners at one meeting on one day.  Well, that looks like carelessness.

Gordon Elliott’s achievement at Navan last Sunday was remarkable.  Six winners at one meeting on one day.  And this wasn’t some middle England, middle-of-the-summer, three-and-four-and-five-horse fields meeting, this was Troytown Chase day at Navan, Navan’s biggest National Hunt day and a hugely competitive day wall to wall.

It has been done in Britain.  Paul Nicholls had six winners at Wincanton on 21st January 2006 (ref. Tony O’Hehir, Racing Post, 28th November), but that was a little different.   Four of the Nicholls winners were favourites, two of them were odds-on, and the cumulative odds for the six-horse accumulator was just over 1,775/1.  Also, Wincanton was just the third meeting in Britain that day, behind Peter Marsh Chase day at Haydock and Lightning Novices’ Chase day at Lingfield, and the total amount of prize money won by Nicholls’ six winners was £51,337.

Last Sunday was different, Troytown Chase day at Navan, the only meeting in Ireland, the best meeting by miles in Britain and Ireland (although, in fairness, the competition wasn’t intense, especially with Carlisle abandoned). 

Only one of Elliott’s winners was clear favourite, one other was joint-favourite, none was odds-on and the six-horse accumulator returned odds of just over 41,276/1.  Also, the total prize money earned by Elliott’s six winners was €153,557.  Turn the Nicholls £51,337 into euro and estimate the worth of that figure from 2006 a decade later, and you only get around €65,311.

It was just another milestone in Gordon Elliott’s meteoric career as a trainer.  Interesting that, when Paul Nicholls had that six-timer at Wincanton, Elliott had yet to train a winner under Rules.  Just over a year later, still without a winner in Ireland on his CV, he won the Aintree Grand National with a horse with whom Nicholls had won the Becher Chase and the Welsh National. 

It’s a strange old world.

More meteorics.  In 2008/09, Elliott finished 25th in the Irish National Hunt trainers’ championship.  In 2009/10, he finished 14th.  In the next two seasons, he finished, respectively, fourth and fifth, and he has finished second behind Willie Mullins in each of the last four seasons.  Four seasons ago, he amassed just over €1 million in prize money.  Last season, he earned over €2.5 million for his owners in Ireland, two and a half times as much.

Elliott’s total numbers of winners in Ireland have also soared.  They oscillated around the half-century mark for a few seasons, 62 in 2010/11, 56 in 2013/14, before increasing to 92 in 2014/15.  Last season, he had 97 winners by the time February rolled around, and he looked forward to his first ton.  He finished the season with 123.

This season, he bagged his 100th winner of the term when Baltazar D’Allier won his maiden hurdle at Naas on 12th November, the fastest 100 ever in Ireland and three months earlier than Elliott’s maiden 100 last season.  He has 114 winners now so far this season, just nine away from last season’s total, which was his highest ever by far.

It’s not just a numbers game either.  The quantity is interlaced with quality, and victories in these big staying handicap chases – the Galway Plate, the Kerry National, the Munster National and now the Troytown Chase – have nudged Elliott up to €1.9 million in prize money for this season so far.  That’s more than he earned in any complete season before the 2015/16 season, and we have only just crept into December.


Native Gold chance

It is correct that connections of Native River are diverting around the Welsh National now, and are plotting a path that will ultimately lead to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Common consensus is that the Colin Tizzard-trained horse is more Grand National horse than Gold Cup horse, but the Gold Cup is as much about stamina as it is about pace and class, and Native River is not far off now.

The handicapper raised the Indian River gelding 8lb for his Hennessy win to a mark of 163.  That leaves him with 13lb to find with Cue Card on official ratings, which is not insignificant.  However, Cue Card has run 26 times over fences, and he will be 11 next March.  You have to go back to What A Myth in 1969 to find the last horse aged older than 10 to win the Gold Cup, and it is unlikely that he will be better next March than he has been to date. 

By contrast, Native River has run eight times over fences and he won’t actually be seven years old until 4th May next year.  There is every chance that there is still more improvement to come.


Tizzard rolls on

And so the Colin Tizzard roll continues.  Native River’s win in last Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup, together with Thistlecrack’s impressive performance in the Worcester Novices’ Chase, means that the popular Dorset trainer has now won eight big Saturday/Sunday races in the last six weeks.

Here’s the list: the Old Roan Chase (Third Intention), the Byrne Group Chase (Quite By Chance), the Badger Ales Trophy (Gentleman Jon), the BetVictor Handicap Chase (Viconte Du Noyer), the Shloer Chase (Fox Norton), the Betfair Chase (Cue Card), the Worcester Novices’ Chase (Thistlecrack) and the Hennessy (Native River).

Eight different races, eight different horses and, interestingly, six different riders: Aidan Coleman, Tom O’Brien, Harry Cobden, Paddy Brennan, Tom Scudamore and Richard Johnson. 

Tizzard has hit a sweet spot this season.  It is the combination of factors.  There is the emergence of Thistlecrack as potentially the best staying chaser in training, and the progression of Native River to take his place at the top table.  There is also Cue Card’s longevity, his ability to maintain his top class level of form even now, when he is qualified for veterans’ races.  

Add the Potts horses to that, Viconte Du Noyer and Sizing Tennessee and Sizing John and Sizing Codelco and the others (mostly Sizings), and their acquisition of Fox Norton, and you have a potent team.  And we have known for a long time that Colin Tizzard is well able to train.

In the short term, the trainer and his team are faced with a dilemma – run Thistlecrack as well as Cue Card in the King George, give himself two shots at Britain’s Christmas highlight, or run Thistlecrack in the Feltham Chase instead, give himself a chance of winning two Grade 1 races on the same day.  You will try not to be influenced by the bonus thing, but you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. 

How would you feel, for example, if Cue Card finished second to Thistlecrack in the King George?  Very good obviously, a 1-2 in the King George, but wouldn’t there be a part of you that would think that you could have won the Feltham instead and still had a shot at the £1 million Betfair Chase/King George/Gold Cup bonus?

As dilemmas go, however, this one is up there with Kit Kat or Crunchie, Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain.


Jones horses making waves

Owner Chris Jones has had a nice fortnight.  He didn’t win the Troytown Chase or the Morgiana Hurdle or the Hennessy Gold Cup, but his horses have been running well and he can look forward into the season with justified optimism.

Ordinary World put up a really nice performance in finishing second to his fellow Henry de Bromhead-trained rival Identity Thief in the Craddockstown Chase two weeks ago.  Rated 39lb inferior to the Gigginstown House horse over hurdles, the Milan gelding’s jumping was very good (from what we could see through the fog), and time may prove that going down by just a length to Identity Thief is top class novice chasing form.

Then last weekend, Noble Endeavour – one of the Gordon Elliott 11 – ran a fine race to finish fourth in the Troytown Chase at Navan on Sunday, while at Gowran Park on Saturday, the Andy Lynch-trained Zabana got his season rolling when he emerged from more fog to beat Kitten Rock and Champagne West.  That was over two and a half miles, and he should do even better when he steps up again in trip. 

We could see lots of the famous maroon and white stripes this season.


Foggy clues

Fog at Punchestown, fog at Gowran Park, fog at Thurles: fair play to everyone involved in sticking the cameras out the windows of the cars and whizzing around the ambulance paths.  The end product may not be of silver screen quality, but you try holding a camera steady as the car bounces around at 35 miles per hour, and at least it means that we get to see some of the race as opposed to none. 

Hopefully the fog will lift soon.  Must be something in the air.

© The Irish Field, 3rd December 2016