In-form Gordon Elliott aims to continue momentum at Fairyhouse
Trainer to run three horses as he targets Grade One success in Drinmore Novice Chase
A Toi Phil, with Ruby Walsh at Punchestown Racecourse: horse will run in the “Winter Festival” at Fairyhouse this weekend. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Fresh from his extraordinary 41,277-1 Navan six-timer on Sunday, Gordon Elliott will aim to maintain some of that same momentum towards Sunday’s “Winter Festival” Grade One action at Fairyhouse where this season’s leading trainer will be triple-handed in the novice chase feature.
The Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase provided Elliott with his first Grade One success when Jessie’s Dream won in 2010 and he has won it twice more since, with the Gigginstown Stud pair, Don Cossack in 2013, and the ill-fated No More Heroes a year ago.
“The plan is to run three: A Toi Phil, Diamond King and Lieutenant Colonel. They’re all good horses, in good form, and we’re looking forward to running them,” said the Longwood-based trainer ahead of jump racing’s most significant pre-Christmas fixture.
A Toi Phil, winner of the Florida Pearl Chase a week ago, is part of a typically strong list of potential Gigginstown candidates for the Drinmore chase which is also on the radar for the Mouse Morris-trained Alpha Des Obeaux, currently a 7-1 market leader for the RSA at Cheltenham in March.
Up for grabs
Michael O’Leary’s team has won the Drinmore in four of the last five years and the complexion of this weekend’s race is likely to become clearer after Tuesday’s forfeit stage.
With three Grade One races up for grabs, Sunday’s meeting has a proven pedigree of throwing up future Cheltenham winners, including Jezki (2013) and Hurricane Fly (2010) who both landed the featured Hattons Grace Hurdle which has seen its prize fund boosted to €100,000.
Willie Mullins won the race again with Arctic Fire a year ago and there will be major interest in which of his strong team of pre-entries remain in the Hatton’s Grace at the latest declaration stage on Tuesday. Both Annie Power and Faugheen are currently among a dozen horses still in contention to run in the 2½-mile race.
Sunday’s other top-flight highlight is the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and Elliott is likely to be doubly represented in that race.
“I’d say we’ll run Labaik and Bilko. Laibak has won his two starts over hurdles and Bilko won the last day in Cork. It will be a big step up for him but he’s in good form,” he said. “The ground won’t bother any of them.”
The going at Fairyhouse is currently “yielding” and good to yielding in places with no significant changes expected during the week, welcome news for track authorities who in the past have had to deal with repeated postponements of their big programme due to freezing weather conditions.
“Thankfully it’s not going to get significantly colder and we’re not going to get that much rain,” said Fairyhouse manager, Peter Roe.
“We won’t know for certain who’s going to run where until Friday but Alpha Des Obeaux and A Toi Phil are the two leading novices so far this season and they could both line up in the Drinmore. And of course everyone will be looking at Gordon Elliott after what he did at Navan,” he added.