Death Duty bounces back to record first victory in four years

Elliott-trained veteran thrives in testing conditions to land Grand National Trial

Death Duty is 25-1 to hit the big-time in April's Aintree Grand National after securing a first victory in over four years at Punchestown on Sunday.

The Gordon Elliott-trained veteran thrived in the testing conditions to land the €90,000 Hollywoodbets Grand National Trial.

In what turned into an old-fashioned slog on rare heavy ground this winter, Death Duty emerged a three-length winner over Champagne Platinum with the winner’s stable companion Coko Beach in third.

Valuable as it was, it wasn’t the sort of victory that seemed on the cards for the Gigginstown runner towards the end of 2017 when he appeared to be a potential future Gold Cup contender.

Already a Grade One winner over hurdles, Death Duty looked to have the racing world at his feet when landing the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse’s ‘Winter Festival’.

However just three weeks later he fell in the St Stephen's Day feature at Leopardstown and was subsequently out of action for over two years.

Half a dozen starts on his belated return in 2020 suggested a pale shadow of his former self.

After another year out he came back with a promising effort in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown but failed to fire in the Thyestes last month.

He was a very different prospect on Sunday though, travelling sweetly throughout, and staying on well in the closing stages.

What the impact will be when the Grand National weights are revealed on Tuesday remains to be seen but getting Death Duty to win again was no mean feat by Elliott.

“He’s a long time between drinks. He won two Grade Ones and it’s great to see him putting his head down there and galloping to the line,” the trainer said.

"Seainin Mahon, the girl who led him up, rides him every day and looks after him like a baby. He's like glass and she does all the work with him so big credit has to go to her," Elliott added.

Famous silk

There could also be a chance to finally secure Cheltenham festival success next month with Elliott nominating the Kim Muir or the Ultima as possible races before targeting a National.

Tuesday's weights announcement will also be closely examined for the mark assigned to the dual-National hero Tiger Roll whose shot at a hat-trick depends on the British handicapper dropping his rating.

“Tiger Roll is in good form. He’s not getting any younger but he doesn’t owe us anything at this stage,” said Elliott whose current big Gold Cup hope Galvin is also among 107 National entries.

The JP McManus team, who have last year’s first and third, Minella Times and Any Second Now, in the National mix extended their outstanding weekend form to Punchestown.

Mark Walsh carried the famous silk to a hat-trick of wins at Naas on Saturday and repeated the feat 24 hours later.

Midnight Maestro beat Shady Operator for a McManus 1-2 in the Cross Country while Ciel De Neige earned 10-1 quotes for the Arkle with a straightforward novice chase success.

There was nothing uncomplicated about how Slip Of The Tongue secured Listed success in a novice hurdle, eventually getting the better of Deploy The Getaway by three parts of a length.

Walsh poked his way up Deploy The Getaway’s inner on the run to the last but jumped dramatically left at the final obstacle and collided into the runner-up.

For a moment it looked like Walsh might be out the side door but he regrouped and Slip Of The Tongue rallied to win.

A stewards enquiry resulted in no alteration.

"He's a horse we've liked all the time and he's learning all the time. I'd say he stays well and loves that big of soft ground. Knowing the family they get better with time and hopefully he will. I haven't discussed plans but I'd say we'll keep him at home," trainer Padraig Roche said.

Cross-country

Cheltenham is very much on the agenda for Ciel de Neige and the first two in the cross-country.

"Mark thought he just needed to hold on to his horse. At least they stay well. We've another seven furlongs to go at Cheltenham and you wouldn't know what the ground would be like either," said Enda Bolger after yet another victory around the cross-country course.

Despite Arkle quotes for Ciel De Neige, Willie Mullins was not committing the McManus runner to any festival target but James's Gate will definitely be part of the potentially massive Mullins team for the Champion Bumper.

The horse made an impressive winning debut in the finale and was cut to 12-1 for the festival.

After the maiden hurdle won by Grandero Bello, the stewards penalised connections of the ninth horse home, the 66-1 shot Saddle Her Up, under 'Non-Trier' rules.

Trainer Barry Fitzgerald was fined €2,000 while jockey Kieren Callaghan was suspended for 10 days. Saddle Her Up was banned from racing for 42 days.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column

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