No rest for Irish trainers as relentless pursuit of winners goes on

Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins shift attention from Cheltenham to St Patrick’s weekend

 

Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins maintain their relentless pursuit of winners over St Patrick’s weekend as attention switches from Cheltenham to the trainers’ championship.

Just denied a first trainer’s title last season, Elliott currently has a lead of almost €400,000 on his great rival, although Mullins is rated a 4-6 favourite to again be in front when it counts at Punchestown next month.

Easter Monday’s €500,000 BoyleSports Irish Grand National could yet prove crucial in the battle between Irish racing’s two dominant figures.

However, as momentum builds towards the Fairyhouse and Punchestown festivals – as well as the Aintree National in between – every cent counts in the duel, and Elliott in particular, it seems, is in no mood for a post-Cheltenham breather.

Waterlogging has forced Down Royal to switch its weekend date to Monday, leaving Wexford with St Patrick’s Day to itself. Track conditions there were being monitored on Friday.

On Sunday Navan and Limerick each stage both a Grade Two and a Grade Three, and between the three weekend fixtures Elliott is readying 25 runners.

Mullins is hardly slacking off, either, with 11 runners, and their clash in Navan’s Toals Webster Cup looks fascinating.

Transformation

Elliott’s transformation of Doctor Phoenix this season has been remarkable, and the veteran has secured both the €100,000 Dan Moore Chase and a Grade Two at Naas last time.

His intriguing opponent, though, is the Grade One winner Great Field, unbeaten in four starts over fences last season, who makes his belated first start of this campaign.

Great Field’s spectacular front-running style had him in the Champion Chase reckoning until recently. But he skipped Cheltenham and is presumably using the Navan race as a stepping-stone to other festival targets.

Doctor Phoenix will be a useful guide to where Great Field is in terms of top-flight ambitions. Elliott’s runner certainly has the edge in race-fitness. However, the Mullins horse looked very exciting last year and emerges just ahead on official figures.

On ratings the three-runner Flyingbolt Novice Chase is a straightforward head-to-head between the two top trainers, and Elliott’s Tombstone looks to have the edge on Saturnas.

Step-up in trip

Dinaria Des Obeaux lost little in defeat behind the subsequent OLBG Hurdle heroine Benie Des Dieux at Naas last month. She should appreciate the step-up in trip for Limerick’s Grade Two Charleville Mares’ Chase.

Elliott sends half a dozen runners in total to Limerick, including Goodthynemilan who won a chase at Thurles last week. She goes back to hurdles for a handicap on Sunday and can follow up.

Crackerdancer held Cheltenham ambitions until taking a fall in her last start at Fairyhouse in January in a race won by no less than Laurina.

Trainer Ray Hackett reported that his Listed bumper winner had a bad lung infection after that race and she returns to action in the Grade Three Kerry Group Novice Hurdle.

Crackerdancer has proven her liking for Limerick in the past. She looks to have a decent chance of striking a rare blow for the “little guy” against some of the game’s big guns in a pattern event.

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