Gordon Elliott sends Ginto and Hollow Games to battle it out in Naas

Trainer believes Ginto is ‘a horse for the future’

Gordon Elliott looks to hold a pair of Grade One aces in the first top-flight contest of 2022 at Naas on Sunday.

The Bective Stud-owned pair Ginto and Hollow Games – between them purchased for almost €750,000 by Noel and Valerie Moran – headline the seven-runner Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle.

It is an enviable hand for Elliott, who could be forgiven for thinking ‘good riddance’ to such a bruising 2021.

Finding himself at the eye of a public storm over that notorious image of him sitting on a dead horse prompted predictions that his meteoric rise to the top of the training ranks might be irretrievably stalled.

Even a six-month licence suspension for something that undoubtedly damaged racing’s reputation but didn’t constitute any breach of welfare rules was criticised as insufficient in many circles.

Yet, just over four months after resuming at the head of his Cullentra operation, Elliott appears to have pulled off the not inconsiderable feat of having normal service resumed.

A hat-trick of Grade One successes over the Christmas period sees him start the new year with only his old rival Willie Mullins ahead of him in the trainer's table and Sunday's feature firmly in his sights.

Elliott has won the €85,000 contest three times in the seven years it has been a Grade One, including with Envoi Allen in 2020.

That horse was the most high-profile defection from Cullentra after the controversy but it has been notable how other big-hitters such as the Morans have continued to put their weight behind Elliott.

With Ginto going through the sales ring at £470,000, and Hollow Games at £225,000, it is quite an expression of faith in the trainer’s ability to produce top-level winners.

That both appear set to take each other on this weekend looks notably sporting considering the sums and reputations involved.

“They both deserve to take their chance in a race like this and we’re looking forward to it,” Elliott said on Friday.

Hollow Games goes to Naas on the back of a win on good ground in the ‘Monksfield’ last time but also has winning form on the sort of heavy conditions that will apply here.

The 'X-factor' horse though looks to be Ginto, whose Grade Two victory at Navan last time got a perfect form boost when runner-up Eric Bloodaxe subsequently impressed at Limerick.

Elliott added on Friday: “Ginto looks like he could be anything. He’s a horse for the future. He looks to be a chaser and was bought to be a chaser, so whatever he does over hurdles is going to be a bonus.”

Whether Jack Kennedy will be able to ride is up in the air with Elliott rating his chances at no more than "50-50".

“Jack rode two lots out this morning and a horse jerked and his shoulder is a bit sore,” he reported.

Kennedy returned to action at Christmas after dislocating his shoulder in a fall in early November.

Since McKinley won the inaugural Grade One running of this race at 33-1 in 2015, it has been won by six straight favourites, including Bob Olinger a year ago.

If that’s an encouraging statistic for punters then Willie Mullins has the concrete data of how his hope, Whatdeawant, actually beat Ginto in a bumper last year.

Whatdeawant made a winning debut over flights at Navan recently but it was hardly in the impressive fashion that his old adversary has shown twice already this season.

Grand Jury has the same Bob Olinger connections that emerged on top in 2021.

He justified very short odds on his own debut over flights at Punchestown but the worry is how the Henry de Bromhead team hasn’t been shooting the lights out over the holiday period.

Earlier on the Naas card, Blue Lord has to follow in some impressive hoof-prints in a two-mile novice chase.

The exceptional Energumene landed this contest a year ago on his second start over fences on the same card that Blue Lord ended up chasing home Bob Olinger in the big race.

Blue Lord was pretty much faultless on his own first start over the bigger obstacles at Fairyhouse last month when easily accounting for El Barra.

More testing ground shouldn’t be a problem here although it might make a difference for Lifetime Ambition, who was taken out of Limerick’s recent Grade One due to the going.

A handful of mares line up for the opening Beginners’ Chase at Naas including Jeremys Flame, who had the unenviable task of giving Concertista a race at Cork last time out.

Gavin Cromwell’s runner stuck to her task admirably and sets the benchmark in this company, although Roseys Hollow could be a value alternative.

A Grade Three winner over hurdles, Roseys Hollow belied 16-1 odds to run a decent fifth to Capodanno at this course and distance on her first chase start.