Gordon Elliott to release formidable team for Christmas duty
Season’s leading trainer could have a contender in all 63 races run in Ireland during the festive period
Douvan is the overwhelming favourite for the Grade One Cashcard Chase at Leopardstown on Tuesday December 27th. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA
The season’s leading trainer Gordon Elliott has sent a shiver down the spines of his opposition by indicating he could be represented in all 63 races run over the four-day Christmas holiday period in Ireland next week.
It is a remarkable show of strength in depth by the man determined to dethrone Willie Mullins as champion trainer, and Elliott is assured of being heavily represented in the most valuable race of all over Christmas, Tuesday’s €190,000 Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown.
This week’s lull ahead of the busiest racing period of the year allows Elliott time to ponder a lead of over €460,000 to Mullins in the race for the 2016-17 trainer’s championship.
After a five-timer on Sunday, Elliott was cut to evens by some firms to prevent Mullins picking up a tenth trainer title in a row.
Mullins remains an odds-on favourite to overhaul his rival and is gearing up to be a major player in the seven Grade One events run at Leopardstown in particular – with Douvan an overwhelming favourite for Tuesday’s Cashcard Chase.
However the remarkable dominance Elliott has enjoyed in this campaign to date shows no sign of slowing down.
The Co Meath handler has made 54 entries for Ireland’s three St Stephens Day meetings with 23 possible contenders for Down Royal’s fixture alone on Monday.
His influence could even extend across the Irish Sea, including at Kempton where Roi Des Francs has been left in the King George VI Chase.
They will include a number of prime Grade One hopes over the course of the week but it is Tuesday’s Paddy Power which is the most valuable Christmas pot and Elliott has been a dominant figure in the season’s major handicaps with wins including the Galway Plate, the Kerry National and the Troytown at Navan last month.
“We will definitely have seven or eight runners in the Paddy Power. Obviously Noble Endeavor and Ucello Conti look the pick but it looks like we’ll probably have a good handful of others,” he said.
However the fascinating ebb and flow of momentum in the trainer’s battle is illustrated though by a Mullins runner, The Crafty Butcher, being installed a 7-1 favourite by the big-race sponsors with last year’s runner up, Ucello Conti, next best on 10-1 and Noble Endeavor on 12-1.
If the big handicap will present a multitude of betting options, the €100,000 Cashcard Chase on the same Tuesday card at Leopardstown is shaping up as a lucrative lap of honour for the hugely exciting Douvan.
Unbeaten in 11 starts for Mullins he is a 1-5 favourite to successfully follow up his recent Hilly Way Chase victory at Cork with his old rival, Sizing John, an 8-1 next best on what may be his first start for new trainer, Jessica Harrington.
Rich Ricci’s colours are also likely to be carried by an odds-on Grade One favourite in Min who is 4-6 for his eagerly anticipated clash with Identity Thief in Leopardstown’s St Stephens Day highlight, the €90,000 Racing Post Novice Chase.
This race was won in a canter by Douvan last year and Min is one of four Mullins entries among the 15 horses left in the race after Tuesday’s declaration stage.
Identity Thief is a 7-4 shot in some lists and remains on course to try and make it three from three over fences for trainer Henry De Bromhead.
Ground conditions at Leopardstown are currently “yielding” but there is an unsettled forecast for the week ahead. The going at Limerick ahead of its four-day festival is already “soft to heavy”.
Limerick’s St Stephens Day feature is the Grade Two Shannon Airport Novice Chase which has 14 entries left in it.
Half of those are owned by Gigginstown Stud but there will be considerable interest in Haymount should Willie Mullins run him at Limerick. Haymount beat the subsequent Grade One winner Coney Island on his debut over fences at Punchestown last month.
Unsurprisingly, Elliott has a number of possible contenders, including last season’s Coral Cup winner, Diamond King.