Gordon Elliott putting things in perspective after tumultuous year

Co Meath trainer in line for a successful end to the year at Leopardstown festival

Work riders and horses doing their morning work at Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra stables. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Work riders and horses doing their morning work at Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra stables. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Gordon Elliott has only Willie Mullins in front of him in the trainer’s table but insists his priority is to “regroup” rather than try to dethrone his old rival this season.

Monday’s publication of Grade 1 entries for Leopardstown’s Christmas festival might affront those who shudder at the ‘C’ word while still in November but they had Elliott licking his lips in anticipation.

That’s significant since it would be understandable if he was yearning for a new year considering how a turbulent 2021, that saw Elliott at the eye of a national storm over a notorious image of him sitting on a dead horse, included the loss of his license for six months.

Being the recipient of such widespread public opprobrium was the biggest and most potentially devastating reverse in what had up to then been a career as stellar as it was unlikely.

The loss of star horses such as Envoi Allen only underlined fears for Elliott’s reputation being irretrievably tarnished.

However, just three months after officially resuming the reins at his Co Meath base, Elliott is back in familiar territory.

With 63 winners over jumps in Ireland since his return, and just shy of €1 million prizemoney in the bag, he is in second position in the trainer’s championship. There have also been three winners in Britain.

If there will always be those who view the 43-year-old through the prism of that infamous transgression of taste, there is little argument with the resilience Elliott has shown in resuming normal service so quickly.

Comeback

Hardly one for obvious introspection, especially not on cue for a Horse Racing Ireland media Zoom call, Elliott nevertheless didn’t downplay the importance of hitting the ground running on his comeback.

“I was rearing to come back. It was a long six months. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about a lot of other people. But I’m back now, rearing to go,” he said on Monday.

Characteristically he hasn’t been surprised by his success since September but it is accompanied by a readiness to put his long held ambition to topple Mullins as champion trainer into a broader perspective.

“Look, there are bigger things happening in the world and there are bigger problems than being champion trainer.

“Of course I’d love to beat Willie Mullins some day. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. But at the moment all I want to do is regroup and just repay all my staff and all my owners who’ve been loyal to me. That’s all I want at the moment,” he said.

“All I want to do is train winners. We’ve got great owners and a great bunch of young horses. I suppose this year is (rebuilding) and getting back to where we were. But we’ve got a lot of nice young stock so it’s exciting times ahead. It’s all about the future,” Elliott added.

That involves getting two of his main jockeys, Jack Kennedy and Jordan Gainford, back from injury in time for Christmas as well as preparing exciting novices such as Fil Dor for St Stephen’s Day at Leopardstown.

There is also a plan to try the proven Grade 1 star Abacadabras over three miles on day three of the Christmas action.

More immediately though it is the ultimate stalwart, Tiger Roll, who will return to action in Liverpool this Saturday in the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase.

A race named after one Grand National winner is set to contain the most accomplished National horse since Red Rum.

Academic

Michael O’Leary’s dispute with the British handicapper over Tiger Roll’s rating makes talk of a potential third National success in April mostly academic although Elliott appears to suspect time is just as big a problem as any inflated handicap mark.

“If you’re going to dream, you’d love to think you’d go back and win a third Grand National.

“But the stats don’t lie. It’s three years now since he ran in a Grand National. It’s not going to be any easier for him. He’s not getting any younger.

“To be honest, I’d love to win another cross country race in Cheltenham with him. I think if he won it’d bring the roof down in Cheltenham. For me, Tiger Roll winning in Cheltenham this year was one of the proudest moments I’ve had training racehorses,” he said.

That technically it was Denise Foster who was in charge of Tiger Roll that day after taking up the reins at Cullentra House during the ban testifies to how disconcerting a year it has been for Elliott.

But even with four weeks to go to the festive action, and Leopardstown already planning to water the course from next Monday, one Christmas sure-thing already looks to be Elliott in the winner’s circle.

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