Donn's Articles » Gordon Elliott

Gordon Elliott

When Gordon Elliott sent Silver Birch to Aintree to win the Grand National in 2007, he had never trained a winner in Ireland, and people asked who he was.

Yesterday, 11 years after Silver Birch, Gordon Elliott won the Grand National again with Tiger Roll, and nobody asked who he was. 

Gordon Elliott’s rise through the last decade, from Grand National to Grand National, has been meteoric.  He started off on ground level, rented a yard, no silver spoon, no fast track to the upper floors.  He started with moderate horses and figured out where they could win races, and the road to Perth was well-worn.

In the 2007/08 National Hunt season, the season after Silver Birch’s Grand National, he had six winners in Ireland.  The following season, he had 14.  It is from such grass-roots beginnings that Elliott has grown to become one of the most successful Irish National Hunt trainers that there has ever been.

Last season, Elliott had 193 winners in Ireland.  He was crowned leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival, and he led the Irish trainers’ championship until the second last day of the season.  This season, he was leading trainer at Cheltenham again, he has already broken through the 200-winner mark in Ireland for the season and he is odds-on to be crowned champion.

He has quantity now and he has quality.  The numbers of winners that he continually produces are startling, and he has won the big races: the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years ago, the Irish Grand National two weeks ago, and now the Aintree Grand National twice.  And yet, he still gets as big a kick out of winning a lesser race as he always got.  His objective is to get the horses that are under his care to realise their full potential, to do as well as they can do, to win the races that they can win.  You can’t claim credit for natural talent, but you can claim credit for honing that talent and succeeding in getting it to fulfil its potential.

And it’s a team game.  Elliott always refers to his team of people at home, he continually talks about his staff, that he wouldn’t be where he is if he didn’t have great people around him. 

His battle with perennial champion Willie Mullins has lit up the last two Irish National Hunt seasons, and their duel has spilled across national boundaries.  They each had six winners at the Cheltenham Festival last season, but Elliott claimed the title because he had more seconds.  This season, Elliott had eight winners at Cheltenham while Mullins had seven.

Last season, Mullins only caught Elliott in the race to the Irish National Hunt trainers’ title in the dying embers of the season, on the second last day of the Punchestown Festival.  Two weeks ago at Fairyhouse, in the Irish Grand National, Elliott’s General Principle beat Mullins’ Isleofhopendreams by a head.  Yesterday at Aintree, Elliott’s Tiger Roll beat Mullins’ Pleasant Company by another head.

Their duel is real, there is real rivalry, but there is also real respect.  Elliott said yesterday that he was delighted to be mentioned in the same sentence as Willie Mullins.

They push each other to go higher.  Together they raise the bar and, in pushing their own standards higher, together they push others.  Elliott has proven that you can reach the top of this game even if you do start at the bottom.

You could see what yesterday’s victory meant to Gordon Elliott, and to Michael and Eddie O’Leary of owners Gigginstown House Stud, and to rider Davy Russell.  And how much it meant to all of them together, the fact that the others were a part of it.  It was a victory that was laced with emotion. 

Gordon Elliott said a few years ago that, when he won the Grand National with Silver Birch, he didn’t really appreciate the enormity of the achievement.  He said that a lot of it passed him by, that he was so young, that he didn’t take the time to take it all in.  He said that he would love to go and win it again.  That, if he did, he would take the time to fully appreciate it. 

Now he has.  Now he can.

© The Sunday Times, 15th April 2018