Gordon Elliott plans National raid with Cause Of Causes and Ucello Conti
Meath trainer still playing down chances of denying Mullins 10 championships in row
Cause of Causes, pictured here racing at Cheltenham under Jamie Codd, is being lined up by Gordon Elliott for the Grand National. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
A decade after bursting to prominence with Silver Birch’s famous Aintree Grand National success, the all-conquering Gordon Elliott now plans to target the world’s most famous steeplechase with Cause Of Causes and Ucello Conti in just over two weeks’ time .
After ending Willie Mullins’s reign as Cheltenham’s leading trainer last week, Elliott’s ambition to also dethrone his great rival as Ireland’s champion trainer means he has conceded Liverpool’s National festival will play second fiddle to both Fairyhouse and Punchestown in his list of priorities.
“No doubt we’ll have a good few going over. Cause Of Causes and Ucello Conti will go, all being well,” he said on Monday. “But Fairyhouse and Punchestown are more important than Liverpool this year.”
Bookmakers rate Cause Of Causes and Ucello Conti as Ireland’s best chances of landing the Aintree National, making them both general 20/1 shots behind the Gold Cup runner-up, Minella Rocco, at half those odds.
Cause Of Causes was one of Elliott’s half-dozen winners at Cheltenham in the Cross-Country Chase last week and the JP McManus-owned stalwart picked up valuable experience of the unique Aintree fences in 2015 when eighth to May Clouds. Ucello Conti was sixth last year to Rule The World.
Elliott’s sparkling Cheltenham Festival form continued to the weekend with six more winners spread between Navan and Limerick on Sunday, and the Co Meath trainer will have four more runners at Clonmel’s comparatively run-of-the-mill Tuesday fixture.
It continues the sort of momentum that makes him a hot favourite to end the season as champion trainer at Punchestown in just over a month’s time.
Elliott has consistently maintained he has “no chance” of beating Mullins to the title and although prepared to dilute that stance a little on Monday he was still playing down his chances of denying his rival 10 championships in a row.
“We’ll probably still struggle with the ammunition Willie has,” he argued. Nevertheless, Paddy Power rate Elliott a 1/4 favourite, with Mullins at 5/2 and trailing by almost €400,000 in prizemoney.
A week after Aintree, Fairyhouse’s Easter festival will feature the potentially decisive Boylesports Irish Grand National with its boosted €500,000 prize-fund where Noble Endeavor is rated best of Elliott’s large entry at a general 14/1.
Jessica Harrington’s Grade One-winning novice Our Duke is a 10/1 favourite for the Easter Monday highlight and after that the trainer can look forward to her Cheltenham Gold Cup hero, Sizing John, returning to action at her local Punchestown track.
“He has come out of his Cheltenham race very well and we were obviously thrilled with how everything went. So we’ve decided our next step is to go the Coral Gold Cup at the end of April,” she said.
That sets up the prospect of the new ‘blue-riband’ winner clashing with the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup holder, Coneygree, who is continuing his return from injury for trainer Mark Bradstock.
Another potential cross-channel raider to Punchestown next month is Gary Moore’s Ar Mad who has been sidelined since finishing behind Un De Sceaux in December’s Tingle Creek Chase.
“He’s been back cantering for about two weeks now. We’re going to get him ready for either Punchestown or the Celebration Chase at Sandown,” Moore confirmed.
Ruby Walsh goes to Clonmel for a single ride – the St Patrick’s Day Wexford winner, The Paparrazi Kid – but will be up against the Gold Cup-winning pilot Robbie Power, who could hold an edge with Val de Ferbet.
The Elliott-Mullins theme will continue in the bumper where the latter’s Clitandre may bounce back to form after a disappointing Punchestown effort last month.
Elliott, though, wastes no time bringing out Saturday’s Limerick runner-up Strike Is Back in the opener and this mare should be tough to beat.