Gordon Elliott tells Caroline Whelan that he’s really looking forward to next week’s Galway festival…
Gordon Elliott doesn’t hail from an equine background but this is certainly not preventing his rise to the training summit. The Meath man was catapulted into the lime-light as a 29 year old rookie in 2007 following the victory of Silver Birch in none other than the world’s most prestigious race – the Aintree Grand National.
As was widely publicised at the time, Elliott was yet to train a winner in his home country at that stage. However, visits to the winner’s enclosure have scarcely stopped since.
The trainer will travel to the legendary Ballybrit festival with around 15 horses and one of the week’s most high profile runners is Galway Hurdle contender Bayan. The improving 5-year-old was third in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham and on paper appears to be in with a decent shout.
The horse ran an extremely encouraging prep race to plunder a handicap over 1m 6 at Leopardstown a fortnight ago. The Galway Hurdle is the country’s most valuable race and it’s undoubtedly one which the trainer admits he would like to win.
“We’ve been placed in it for the past four years so hopefully we won’t be too far away this year,” he said.
“Bayan is in good form, we were very happy with him after Leopardstown, he won fairly snugly and he wasn’t knocked around so it’s all systems go. The ground doesn’t make that much difference to him, he probably wouldn’t want it over soft but John Maloney and his team do a fantastic job and they know what they are doing.”
The canny Elliott has protected Bayan’s jumping mark and it looks like he’ll be getting in on an ideal racing weight of less than 11 stone.
“We kept him especially for the Galway Hurdle; this has been the plan since Cheltenham in March so hopefully it will work out for us,” he added.
“He stayed well up the hill in Cheltenham so with any luck he’ll do the same next week, but as it stands, we really couldn’t be happier with the horse and we’re looking forward to the race.”
The 36 year old who is well known in the U.K for his regular (and generally fruitful) expeditions to Perth is experiencing something of a purple-patch at the moment, enjoying a four-timer at Downpatrick last week and 19 winners in total on the domestic scene since the commencement of the new season.
Therefore the horses are in peak-shape to run to the best of their abilities throughout next week’s seven-day extravaganza.
“The horses are running really well thankfully, we have a great team of people in the yard and it’s all down to them. The prize-money is great in Galway. It’s certainly always nice to have a winner there, if we get one on the board, we’ll be delighted, and anything after that will be a bonus.”
The handler’s growing band of followers will be on the lookout for prospective winners next week and in addition to Bayan, he nominates a few more that may potentially be some of the more fancied chances.
“Sister Slew is a horse that won on the flat at the festival last year and is another we’re keen on; she will run on the level one of the days.
“A smart mare of ours Clara McCloud will go for a handicap hurdle on Saturday, she ran a decent race to be beaten by a head at Bellewstown earlier this month. She’s very well in herself and we’d be hopeful she would give a good account of herself.
“I also have a nice horse called Itchymei’scratch, as long as the ground doesn’t get too quick, we’ll go for the winner’s bumper on Sunday. He needs a trip so should stay up the hill well. We think a bit of him, he’s an honest horse and stay’s very well.”
The trainer admits that, he – akin to the masses- enjoys Galway-for the renowned atmosphere and social scene as much as the action trackside.
“We’re really looking forward to it, it’s the place every-one wants to be for that week, a crowd of us go down and hopefully we’ll get a bit of fine weather to add to it, as the craic is always good!’” he added.
But joking aside, the youngest man ever to train a Grand National winner is undoubtedly looking forward to a very bright future. Leaving the current Willie Mullins stronghold on the Irish National Hunt scene aside, it certainly won’t surprise too many if Elliott is vying for Champion trainer honours sooner rather than later.
This young man though is a master of understatement and won’t be getting too carried away with achievements thus far.
“We have a lovely bunch of young horses coming through, please God they stay sound and things continue to go as well as they have been and we’ll see where it takes us.”