Gordon Elliott records a hat-trick of winners at Navan

Trainer says he could have 100 runners in action over the hectic festive period

Gordon Elliott could have up to 100 runners over next week's Christmas programme and the season's leading trainer maintained his relentless momentum with a short-priced hat-trick at Navan on Sunday.

Both Rapid Escape and Blow By Blow were odds-on winners for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud while the gambled-on favourite Diamond Cauchois was an easy handicap hurdle scorer.

Understandably though many eyes at Navan were already on next week’s Christmas action when three St Stephen’s Day cards will again make it Irish racing’s busiest day of the year.

No one will be busier than Elliott who anticipates a glut of runners over the four days of Leopardstown and Limerick in particular.


“We’ll have a lot of runners. It could be up 100 – hopefully some of them will stick!” he joked.

Apple’s Jade’s first attempt at three miles in next Thursday’s Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle is one of the most anticipated Christmas treats in store for racing fans while her stable companion Outlander is on course to defend his crown in the newly-titled Leopardstown Christmas Chase.

That €150,000 Grade One race is set to see the return to action of Yorkhill while the Gold Cup hero Sizing John could also take his chance. A further element was added on Sunday with confirmation that JP McManus’s cross-channel hope Minella Rocco will travel for the race.

“He’s in good old form and the ground never gets that bad at Leopardstown so it shouldn’t be an issue,” said McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry of last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up.

Nevertheless much of the top-flight Christmas action is shaping into variations on the dominant Gordon Elliott-Willie Mullins theme.

Ante-post pattern

Two Mullins stars – Faugheen and Footpad – are odds-on for three of the seven Grade One races at Leopardstown while Elliott's Mengli Khan is odds-on for the Future Champion Novices Hurdle.

Yorkhill and Apple’s Jade are favourite for their respective assignments and it is only Henry De Bromhead’s Monalee who breaks the ante-post pattern in the Neville Hotel Novices Chase.

Mullins saddled 22 winners during the 2016 Christmas action in Ireland and he edged closer to the €2 million prizemoney mark for this season – almost €300,000 behind Elliott – with a pair of winners split between Navan and Thurles on Sunday.

The highlight was Next Destination’s impressive odds-on success in the Grade Two Navan Novice Hurdle.

David Mullins did the steering on a winner who briefly looked in trouble early in the straight but ultimately won well enough to earn 11-2 quotes for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham.

That could mean a clash with Elliott’s hugely-rated novice star Samcro who is likely to miss Christmas entirely and wait for Naas in the New Year to appear again.

”I was amazed at how he picks up out of nowhere. You’d think you were nearly falling asleep a bit,” David Mullins reported. “He missed the second, I got after him a bit and he picked up two or three gears. He’s won well but I think there’s plenty to come still.”

It’s safe to say the same can be said for Diamond Cauchois who was backed down to 6-4 favourite for the €50,000 Tara Handicap Hurdle and could hardly have won more smoothly.

It was just his second start for Elliott who said: “He’ll probably go for the Pertemps Qualifier over three miles at Leopardstown.”

The former Punchestown Champion Bumper winner Blow By Blow had to work hard to justify 1-3 odds in a maiden hurdle but Rapid Escape was impressive in the Listed bumper. February’s ‘Dublin Racing Festival’ could be his next target after beating Lady ischia by 11 lengths.

Big guns

The day wasn't totally dominated by the sport's big guns however. The former Gold Cup-winning trainer Tom Taaffe saddled his first winner in 377 days when Goose Man reversed form with Without Limites in the novice chase at Navan.

The latter’s trainer Liz Doyle had earlier scored with her first runner for JP McManus after Gran Geste pipped Cask Mate in the opening maiden hurdle.

But there was no competition in the romance stakes for Killahara Castle who secured a shock 200-1 success in the Listed mares hurdle at Thurles.

Winless in 20 previous starts, the 87-rated mare beat Willie Mullins’s 8-13 favourite True Self to win by five lengths.

It was both a local and family success as trainer John Burke is based in Holycross while his brother Martin rode the winner for their sister Elaine who owns Killahara Castle.

“We were  just hoping for a bit of black type and stuck her in hoping it would break up. Once she was in we said we might as well run her,” said Martin Burke. “She has rakes of ability but it’s all in her head if we could get it out.”

It’s safe to say that bookmakers reckon they succeeded with aplomb on Sunday.