Gordon Elliott talks us through his leading hopes for the Cheltenham Festival, headed by Champion Hurdle contender Apple's Jade.
THE STAR TURNS
She’s something else, she’s gone from strength to strength this year and I can’t wait to run her in the Champion Hurdle. I’ll be nervous when she’s running, definitely. You’re always hoping [that she would be a Champion Hurdle horse], but when she crossed the line at Leopardstown that’s when you’re thinking we should give the Champion Hurdle a go. She's come out of her last run very well. She'll have two more little bits of work and then it will be all systems go. We'll just keep her ticking away. She doesn't need to do a lot of work between now and then - she's pretty fit. If she runs to the form she's been in all year, I think she'll run a big race.
The whole world knows what was wrong with her - it's been well publicised she was in season both days [at Cheltenham and Punchestown last year, when beaten twice by Benie Des Dieux]. We're just hoping it doesn't happen again and keeping an eye and monitoring her. I'm not a veterinary surgeon. I leave it to them and the girls that look after her. They'll keep an eye on her cycle.
I think she is thriving on her racing. I'd say that was one mistake I made with her last year [not running between Christmas and the Cheltenham Festival]. It's not a must that she has to make the running. She was taken on in the Hatton's Grace and I'd argue that was her best run of the season. If there's pace in the race, that might suit her even better. It's Jack Kennedy's job to ride her - I only train her. If I start telling him what to do, he shouldn't be riding the horses. If he doesn't know what to do at this stage, he's no good to me!"
I was nervous before the Dublin Racing Festival. Everyone was telling me, you know from people you respect in racing, owners, trainers and press people were saying that what she’s doing she could win a Champion Hurdle. I have to say myself I wasn’t sure that she could show the pace that she showed at Leopardstown on that sort of ground. I think she showed how good she is and the last time she showed that was in the juvenile at Aintree. She’s been awesome all year but arguably her best run was in the Hatton’s Grace.
If you’ve got a horse capable of winning a Champion Hurdle you’ve got to give it a go. It’s one of them races – if she can win a Champion Hurdle she’ll be a hero. She’s a hero in my eyes already but if she can do that she’ll be something special wouldn’t she? She’s proven how good she is, 10 Grade Ones won, and if she won a Champion Hurdle it would be the icing on the cake.
He’s in great form. I couldn’t believe how well he won on Sunday, it surprised me, I thought he’d finish second or third last if I’m honest. It was a good pipe opener for the Cross Country race but he just showed what a good horse he is. A winner at three Cheltenham Festivals, I think he’s won four times at Cheltenham having won at the Open meeting one year, to win a Grand National and then come back and win a Boyne Hurdle as well, you might think we’d go for the Stayers’ Hurdle, but we’re going for the Cross Country race.
That’s where he’s going. I’m lucky to have him, he’s one of the favourites round the yard. To be fair to him he was always slick enough over hurdles. He’s unbelievable, it puts a smile on your face looking at a horse like him. I’ve got a lot of good horses and he might not be the best horse I’ve ever trained, but he’s definitely one of the most likeable.
THE COMEBACK KID?
Cheltenham is coming fast enough. His options are Cheltenham, Punchestown and Aintree. The next 10 days are important. He looks good, but it’s only a few good bits of work it’s not the be all and end all. If he gets to Cheltenham great, but if not it’ll be Aintree or Punchestown or we’ll take the shoes off and go chasing next season. It’ll have to be discussed with Michael and Eddie [O’Leary] but there’s no decision on where he’s going yet. He had a lung infection deep down, it happens from time to time with good horses. It’s not the end of the world.
When they’re so good and they lose their form like that then nine times out of 10 there is a problem. We gave him a fortnight off and a course of antibiotics and that was it. He missed a couple of weeks. But a couple of weeks at that stage of the season is crucial – it’s like going to the Olympics, every day is very important. I won’t be taking any chances. I’d imagine it would be [the Stayers’ Hurdle if he made Cheltenham] but that’s not in concrete.
GOING FOR GOLD
She’ll go for the Gold Cup, definitely. She has a couple of bits of work to do but all being well she runs in the Gold Cup. When you go into the unknown with trips it’s a worry with every horse, but if she turned up in the form she did in the John Durkan I think she’d have a great each-way chance. It’s a positive she’s won at the Festival before. She’s been over there, travelled, she’s a good mare. I think she’s got a chance of finishing in the first four or five.
THE RISING STARS
Delta Work’s in very good form. I’m glad I didn’t go to Leopardstown with him. Davy [Russell] said he would be as quick as he wanted it at Christmas and he has plenty of experience, he’s had three runs over fences he’s won two Grade Ones, beating Le Richebourg, a dual Grade One winner, after that. I didn’t think I had anything to gain but everything to lose by running him on quicker ground. There’s probably less pressure on him if he’s not favourite.
He’s in good form. I didn’t go to the Leopardstown Festival with him as I just thought he’s had three runs in six to eight weeks from winning his bumper right through to winning a Grade One. He jumps very good, he lacks a bit of experience having had just two runs but I think the race will suit him.
When you go racing you just want to beat what’s put in front of you, I’m sure Willie Mullins would tell you the same. If you started worrying about everyone else’s horses I wouldn’t sleep at night and that’s one thing I do good. I’m happy that he jumps well enough and he’s done all he can do, timing wise and everything else I thought it was the right thing to do to go straight to Cheltenham with him. I’ll probably have two or three in the Ballymore. Galvin might run in that, too.
COMMANDER OF FLEET
He goes for the Albert Bartlett. He won the Grade One at Leopardstown the last day and three miles will suit him. He ran well over two miles in the Royal Bond, but it was just too short for him. I think three miles will suit him and the race will suit him, he can take his time early and hunt away. He’s a nice horse, he won a Land Rover Bumper – I suppose the one negative for me is that he does lack a bit of experience.
He’s only had three runs over hurdles but we might get a school into him and see what happens. So he’s green, but he has the engine. He’ll come on for his last run, there was no last hurdle and it’s a big daunting place when you’re there on your own.
He’ll also run in the Albert Bartlett. The ground was too quick last time, I shouldn’t have run him. You get lured into running them at these big Festivals, the prizemoney is so good, and you have to support these races because if you don’t you’re going to lose them. But it was probably a mistake running him in the race. Dinons will run in the Albert Bartlett, too.
He’ll go for the four-miler, at least that’s where I’d like to run him. It’s not in concrete. We’ll have to speak to the owners, but I think the race would suit him. I thought he ran well, he probably didn’t jump as well as he did the first day but Jack says it was just as tight as he wanted it.
VISION D'HONNEUR, FELIX DESJY
Both of them run in the Supreme. Felix, I’d say we were riding him wrong earlier in the season trying to drop him in thinking he had a bit of speed, but he’s actually a relentless galloper. He’ll go for the Supreme Novice. If someone wants to go faster it’ll suit us grand. It’s not essential he makes the running he just wants to go a good honest gallop. He’ll go two-mile chasing next year. I’m looking forward to going chasing with him.
Vison d’Honneur, I was disappointed when he got beat at Leopardstown, then he came out and won at Punchestown, and then Jack [Kennedy] said it was as quick as he wanted it last time. He didn’t let himself down or jump off it, but he seems in really good form at home. He’ll go for the Supreme Novice, but further down the road he’s a horse that you could step up in trip as well.
He runs in the Champion Bumper. I’ll probably run three in the Bumper; Envoi Allen, the horse that won the Bumper at Navan, Thatsy, he might run and maybe another [Abacadabras, see below]. He just does what he has to do and everything was against him last time, the track, the ground, the inside track at Leopardstown on good ground wouldn’t be ideal for him.
He’s a nice horse, but he’s a horse for the future as well. He’s a big three-mile chaser, that’s what he was bought to be and he looks exciting. Mr and Mrs Thompson of Cheveley Park are keen to have a few runners at Cheltenham and that’s where he goes. I’ve probably had speedier horses than him but you won’t see how good this horse is until he goes three miles. To do what he’s doing is amazing and the Cheltenham race should suit.
He’s the other one, he’ll go as well. I wouldn’t say he’d have beaten him, but he was coming at him when he ducked through the rail at Leopardstown. I’d say it was just greenness. Lisa gave him a belt and I’d say he’d never had a belt before and he just ducked in.
I’m half thinking of stepping him up in trip. I’m disappointed with him, he’s just not having a cut at his fences and sometimes Flat-bred horses can do that. It’s not in concrete but I’m thinking of stepping him up to the JLT.
I’m thinking of bringing him back [for the Arkle]. He wasn’t a bad two-miler over hurdles and although Getabird made a mistake at Limerick, I’m not saying he would’ve beaten him, but he was going up to him if you know what I mean. If you go back through Hardline’s form he beat Us And Them seven or eight lengths in a novice chase - and he’s chased Le Richebourg home in his two runs. I’m not saying we’ll beat Le Richebourg, but I am thinking of bringing him back for the Arkle.
He ran a good race last time. If you go back through the race he jumped the top of a fence going away from the stands and he was very slow at the next. Jack just said he hunted round to get him home and he just ran out of steam from the last. But bringing him back to two miles he’ll have a good each-way chance. I think we could even beat the favourite. If the ground turns up as it has been in Ireland all year I think the favourite will be hard to beat, but on softer ground I’m not so sure.
WEIGHT AND SEE…
If he gets into the Close Brothers he’ll go for that. He’s been a wonderful horse, has won umpteen races for us and I think it’s the right race for him. It’s just whether he’s a pound or two too high to get into it I’m not sure. We’ll see. That’s the race I’d like to run him in and stepping up from two will really suit him. He cut out the donkey work last time and didn’t get home, but the novice handicap is the right race for him.
He’s entered in a couple of different races but I’d say he’d run in the Ryanair. That’s the plan at the moment, he could maybe sneak into a place in the Ryanair. A better race with a faster gallop might suit him better, it was a messy race last time. Never say never [to run in the Coral Cup]. He’s got an entry and we’ll see what the weights are.
DALLAS DES PICTONS
He goes in the Martin Pipe. It’s a race I say every year I’d like to win and I’ll throw another five or six at it this year. He’s got a mark of 141 in England so he definitely runs in the Martin Pipe. He’s my number one for that race. Cartwright might run in it, I might have five or six in it, but Dallas Des Pictons is my number one.
SIRE DU BERLAIS
He’ll run in the Pertemps. He ran well the last day and the Pertemps is the plan with him.
FRED WINTER POSSIBLES
Lethal Steps Fred Winter. Surin probably the Fred Winter. The Triumph, Joseph O’Brien has such a strong hand, I was looking at the betting the other day and he had something like five of the first six in the betting. I’m sure I’ll run something in it. Numbers wise I’d say I’ll have more in the Fred Winter than I will in the Triumph.
ON THE BACKBURNER…
There’s no plan for him at the moment. He’s missed a bit of work so I’m not quite sure if he’s going to get there.