Gordon Elliott sends out four in pursuit of Kerry National success

Trainer’s hopefuls split between wealthy owners JP McManus and Michael O’Leary

Gordon Elliott has momentum firmly behind him as he goes into Wednesday's Guinness Kerry National with four chances to win Listowel's €150,000 festival highlight.

A week after saddling a first runner following his six-month licence suspension the controversial trainer has an opportunity to record a first major comeback success.

Elliott’s National four runners are split equally between JP McManus and Michael O’Leary but there is potential throughout Wednesday’s programme for him to make a major statement of intent.

Those two renowned owners also supply Elliott with obvious chances in the first two races while Noel and Valerie Moran’s Bective Stud are behind Elliott’s claims for the final two contests.


Positions adopted by Elliott’s most vehement critics on that infamous image of him sitting on a dead horse are so entrenched that he is always likely to be persona non grata to them.

However, such strength in depth on Wednesday’s card underlines how the 43-year-old trainer has managed to maintain the bulk of his resources despite the reputational blow.

Nine winners in the last week, allied to apparent acceptance among much of the Irish racing public that he has paid the penalty for bringing the sport into disrepute, is the sort of return Elliott would have wanted.

However even for someone who surged into the limelight 14 years ago with an Aintree victory for Silver Birch in the world's most famous steeplechase, this National is still significant.

Tiger Roll’s back-to-back Aintree wins in 2018-19 added to a roll of National honour that also includes success at Fairyhouse with General Principle (2018) as well as a list of other various National varieties.

They include back-to-back wins in the Kerry version with Wrath Of Titans (2016) and Potters Point (2017).

The impetus that a 2021 victory could provide to his career resurgence, however, can’t be underestimated.

If some of the criticism Elliott has received has bordered on the hysterical then there is still no escaping the cloud that is likely to dog him for a long time to come.

Neither can it be forgotten though that nothing breeds popularity quite like success.

So a good result in one of the most cherished steeplehcase prizes of the year in Ireland is likely to resonate for all the right reasons.

Elliott trains both Aramax and The Big Lense who are part of a seven-strong team for McManus.

However, it is the Gigginstown pair Conflated and Farclas that have been towards the top of the betting on the run-up to the big race.

Unenviable task

Jack Kennedy will be on board Conflated, a Grade 3 novice winner last season, as he pursues a first success in the biggest jump race of the year run in his native county.

That leaves Jordan Gainford to claim his valuable 5lb claim off Farclas and that allowance could prove crucial to the admirable grey.

The 2018 Triumph Hurdle hero last ran in the Aintree National when finishing fifth after his stamina was stretched to the limit.

Prior to that he had to settle for second at Cheltenham behind The Shunter – who was ridden by Gainford – which was an unenviable task against a rapidly progressive sort.

Such a description doesn’t apply to Farclas anymore and he hasn’t won a race in more than two years. But he has always shown promise that a major handicap over fences is within his grasp and Gainford’s claim could be decisive.

The 20-year-old rider from Wexford memorably won on The Shunter just a month after turning professional and has become a vital cog at Cullentra stables.

The Kerry National was won three years in a row between 2012 and 2014 by horses promoted from the reserves.

It has been trainer John Ryan’s misfortune to have two of the three reserves including the highly fancied Fairyhill Run who needs one to drop out before 11am on Wednesday morning.

More than half of the Kerry National field ran in the Galway Plate with another McManus horse, Modus, doing best of them in third behind Royal Rendezvous.

Successful with Cabaret Queen last year, Willie Mullins has three shots at the big prize this time including Paul Townend's mount Annamix who was pulled up in the Plate.

Normally a crowd of up to 25,000 could be expected to attend the Kerry National card. But spectators are limited to 2,000 this time under Covid-19 arrangements at Listowel.

That’s enough to generate a lot of noise if there is a well-backed winner of the big race no matter who the connections are.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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