Gordon Elliott accepts the pressure ahead of the Cheltenham Festival

Apple's Jade is out on her own in the Hatton's Grace
Apple's Jade is out on her own in the Hatton's Grace

Gordon Elliott is under no illusions about the pressure on his shoulders as he prepares his army of horses for another assault on the Cheltenham Festival

It is just eight years since the Cullentra maestro broke his duck at the showpiece meeting with Chicago Grey in the National Hunt Chase - the first leg of a Prestbury Park double in 2011, with Carlito Brigante landing the Coral Cup.

Elliott now has 22 Festival victories to his credit and has picked up the Leading Trainer Award in each of the last two years, after saddling six winners in 2017 and a record-equalling eight last season.

With such success comes a weight of expectation, but Elliott is taking nothing for granted.

Speaking in front of the assembled media at a Cheltenham press event at his yard, Elliott said: "I think we'll have 85 to 90 entries and you're probably looking at around 50 runners. I think we had around 40 last year.

"To try to beat what we did last year is going to be very hard. Looking at the numbers and the quality I'd say we have a very nice bunch, but to do what we did last year will be tough.

"Last year we left the track on Tuesday with our tail between our legs having had no winners. To end the week with eight was unbelievable.

"The problem is when you do these things you have to try to beat them."

Cuneo (right) is backed to win the Pertemps Final
Cuneo (right) is backed to win the Pertemps Final

The headline act in this year's squad is the star mare Apple's Jade - who will bid for Champion Hurdle glory off the back of a scintillating display in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown.

She is set to be joined by leading RSA Chase hope Delta Work, Champion Bumper favourite Envoi Allen and the lovable Tiger Roll - who will be a warm order to successfully defend his cross-country crown before bidding for a repeat success in the Grand National at Aintree.

Elliott also has literally dozens of horses entered across the Festival's notoriously tricky handicaps and while he initially attempted to convince those in attendance at his County Meath base he would be delighted to have just one Festival winner, he was wholly unconvincing.

He said: "I always say if we have one winner in Cheltenham we'll be happy and anything after that would be a bonus.

"I'm never really happy with one winner, but you have to be realistic.

"If we have no winners we'll be heartbroken and if we have one winner it probably would be a disappointing week, but I could keep my head up knowing it's one more winner I've trained in Cheltenham.

"Cheltenham is the place you want to win. You can have five, six or 10 winners in Punchestown or Aintree or any other Festival, but it's never talked about again.

"Cheltenham is the Olympics and that's it."

Paul Nicholls stands with big Gold Cup hope Clan Des Obeaux
Paul Nicholls stands with big Gold Cup hope Clan Des Obeaux

Elliott is now very much in countdown mode and is praying none of his big guns suffer any last-minute setbacks that would rule them out of the biggest four days in the sport.

He added: "The one biggest disappointment in racing is horses getting injured, so you just hope everything stays right.

"Most of our serious work is done now and it's just a case of trying to pick the right races for them.

"Of course you're nervous. I'll probably be more nervous when I get over there on Sunday or Monday or Tuesday morning."

Follow the Cheltenham Festival with Sporting Life
Follow the Cheltenham Festival with Sporting Life

Like most trainers Elliott has found the dry winter frustrating, but will not be making any excuses if some of his horses fail to deliver at Cheltenham.

He said: "Some horses would have run more than they have, but every trainer is in the same boat, so there's no point in crying about that.

"There's a lot of horses that have only had one run and they might have had two or three.

"I suppose that's a worry for the public, the press and everyone. We just have to make the decisions on whether horses to run or not.

"The circumstances this year have just been very funny."

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