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Gordon Elliott

It is only when you see them all circle in front of you that you fully appreciate the strength of the Gordon Elliott team.  Delta Work, Envoi Allen, Abacadabras, and the others, all numbered for ease of identification, all Cheltenham-bound.  And Tiger Roll.  Number one 

There is a lot of talk about Tiger Roll.  There usually is a lot of talk about Tiger Roll.  His run in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last Sunday is the talk of the place.  How well he ran, his first run since he won last year’s Grand National.  How well he travelled.  How happy his trainer was with him. 

“He was great,” says Elliott.  “And he came out of the race in great order.  He was only back cantering since January, so he will improve a lot for the run.  He is the horse that we are looking forward to most at Cheltenham.”

You think Tiger Roll, you think Grand National.  Two in the bag, the first horse since Red Rum to win two, and all set to bid for three in a row in April.  That has never been done before, so the Tiger Roll Grand National bond is obvious and strong.  The fact that the Gigginstown House horse has won four times at the Cheltenham Festival goes under the radar sometimes.  A Triumph Hurdle, a National Hunt Chase and two Cross-Country Chases.  Win another Cross-Country Chase this year, and he’s level with Golden Miller on five Cheltenham Festival wins.  Only Quevega has six.

Envoi Allen (number two) has just one Cheltenham Festival win in the bag, but there is time for him.  He’s young.

The Cheveley Park Stud horse has never been beaten.  Winner of his only point-to-point when he was with Colin Bowe, he won his four bumpers last season for Gordon Elliott under Jamie Codd, including the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.  This season, he has raced three times over hurdles and he has won on all three occasions.

He was impressive in winning the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas Hurdle last month.  The way that he travelled for Davy Russell, the emphatic manner in which he put the race to bed.  He beat good horses, and he left the impression that he had more in hand than the three-and-a-half-length winning margin.

“We couldn’t be happier with him,” says his trainer.  “Keith Donoghue rides him every day, and he’s very happy with him.  It’s almost certain that he will stay in novice company at Cheltenham and run in the Ballymore Hurdle.”

That would leave Abacadabras (number four) as the main Elliott hope in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.  The Davidoff gelding has only been beaten once in four runs over hurdles, and that was at the hands of his stable companion Envoi Allen in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December, when he gave him a real race.

“We skipped the Dublin Racing Festival with him, he already had four runs over hurdles.  He’s in good form.  He’s a real speedy horse.  The one worry you’d have with him would be if it came up very soft.  He’d be much better on good to soft ground.”

Soft ground would be no problem for Delta Work (number five), on song and on track for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.  A close-up third in the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival when he didn’t have the run of the race, the Gigginstown House horse was beaten at Down Royal on his debut this season, but he has bounced out of that and won his next two, the Savills Chase at Christmas and the Irish Gold Cup. 

“I didn’t run him between Christmas and March last year, that was my fault.  I think that the more racing he gets, the better he is.  I think he’s made for the Gold Cup.”

Gordon Elliott knows what a Gold Cup horse looks like, having won the race in 2016 with Don Cossack.

“I think that Delta Work is going into the race with a better profile than Don Cossack had.  He’s not your big, robust staying type, but he’s very good.  I wouldn’t swap him with anything.  We’re very lucky to have him.”

There is serious depth to the Elliott Cheltenham team too.  Coeur Sublime in the Champion Hurdle, Fury Road in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, Champagne Classic in the National Hunt Chase or maybe the RSA Chase, perhaps depending on where Battleoverdoyen goes.  Maybe Shattered Love in the Ryanair Chase.  Maybe Apple’s Jade.

“If she runs in anything at Cheltenham, it will be in the Stayers’ Hurdle.”

And the handicaps.  Galvin in the novices’ handicap chase, The Storyteller and last year’s winner Sire Du Berlais in the Pertemps Final, Ben Dundee in the Plate, a few in the Fred Winter Hurdle, including Aramax and Tronador.  Maybe Column Of Fire in the Martin Pipe Hurdle, and a few more in that too. 

Gordon Elliott had his first Cheltenham Festival winner in 2011, Chicago Grey in the National Hunt Chase.  Since then, he has had 24 more.  It’s a seriously impressive haul, a remarkable intensity, 25 Cheltenham Festival winners in nine years.  Sights now set on number 26.

© The Sunday Times, 23rd February 2020