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Dublin: 4°C Friday 5 March 2021

Faith in Samcro, phonecalls from The Boss, and why 'forgotten horse' Delta Work is made for the Gold Cup

Gordon Elliott was in a combative mood but is heading to Cheltenham with a team he likes a lot, writes Johnny Ward.

Elliott surveying the scene at Cheltenham in 2018.
Elliott surveying the scene at Cheltenham in 2018.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

GORDON ELLIOTT WOULD give up winning any race, be it the Gold Cup, the Grand National – or even the races he hasn’t won – just to beat Willie Mullins and be champion trainer.

The admission comes towards the end of his chat to the hacks at a wet and cold but nevertheless resplendent Cullentra House on Tuesday morning. These organised media days can be both illuminating and sanitised, as trainers mingle with journalists they know and journalists they don’t, with somewhat unpredictable results.

A tabloid news reporter asks Elliott about Labaik, an infamous grey not seen in nearly three years, during which time he was seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Elliott could have done without something he knew nothing about but, clearly not best pleased and pointing to his left, tells the reporter that the horse “is three fields that way if you want to see him”.

gordon-elliott Gordon Elliott. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Then a leading English journalist notes how much the yard has hyped up the unbeaten Envoi Allen. He has been here before, be it Don Cossack or Samcro, both of whom became disappointing, even if one of them came out the other side.

I don’t know. He has done it himself: he’s won three Grade 1s. I don’t hype any horses — it’s you guys who hype them.

It is that fighting spirit that inspires him to pursue Willie Mullins until he finally gets the better of him, pointing out that he “is only 41” and that time is his ally. So are his facilities.

samcro-ridden-by-shane-mccann Samcro ridden by Shane McCann. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

His gallops are visually stunning and he entertains the media in a custom-built hospitality area in a one-year-young building overlooking the yard below. He’s in combative mood but, in the main, clearly hitting Cheltenham with a team he likes a lot.

His regard for Envoi Allen is undiminished, with the plan being that he wins the Ballymore and goes chasing next season. He will recall that this time two years ago Samcro was being built up, admittedly by others, to be the coming of the Messiah.

For those of us who have not given up hope, there seems to be some. “He’s had a wind operation since he was beaten by Faugheen at Christmas,” Elliott says, “and it wasn’t as though he was beaten by a bad horse.

A lot of horses are very good at home but lose their way. Don Cossack lost his way for a year at home [before winning a Gold Cup]. Samcro didn’t scope right after Limerick. We just know he’s a good horse. We’re hoping to get him back.

a-view-of-horses-out-on-the-gallops Elliott's gallops. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Elliott has an undoubted soft side when it comes to the horses he trains: he is no cold master. Samcro is, as far as he is concerned, still in there pitching. He clearly likes Triumph Hurdle contender Battle Of Wills and is already envisaging him travelling away off a strong pace in that, while in the Albert Bartlett he contends we’ll see “a different Fury Road over three miles on soft ground”.

Then we get to Delta Work, Gold Cup hope and, if anything, a little unheralded. Jack Kennedy had only half an hour previously given him a beautiful steer to win at Leopardstown when the jockey’s world came crashing down in the form of yet another broken leg.

It seems very much up in the air who replaces Kennedy. Elliott does not think the task is too demanding.

Looking at his two defeats, he was lame after Down Royal earlier this year and it was my own fault last year at Cheltenham when I didn’t run him enough. He’s made for the race. He is probably a bit of a forgotten horse given how many Grade 1s he has won.

“Jack was brilliant on him the last day. Anyone could ride him. I don’t know who is going to ride him. You could nail it down to three or four lads.”

I interject: Lads, though?

“Lads, yeah. Lads. Three or four lads. We’ll see what happens.”

At least that’s Rachael and Bryony ruled out.

jack-kennedy-celebrates-with-gordon-elliott-and-delta-work Kennedy, Elliott and Delta Work following the Savills Steeplechase (Grade 1) at Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Few trainers go into loquacious overdrive when it comes to JP McManus-owned runners and so is the case when Glenloe is brought up. At least it seems we know where he is going to run, this Glenloe, a horse who commands quite a remarkable volume of comment considering he has run 15 times and his sole victory was a maiden hurdle success by the margin of a neck.

“Glenoe, I imagine he’ll run in the Kim Muir… All going well you know? It looks the race to go for. He has never won there… He’s one, like a lot of horses… We are looking forward to running.”

Elliott would not be nearly as successful were it not for Michael and Eddie O’Leary’s Gigginstown operation but he is very much his own man. I ask him what he makes of Eddie’s disdain for the Cheltenham Bumper.

“Ah sure listen,” he replies, the room pausing. “Eddie… Yeah.”

Cue laughter from the audience and a smile from the main man. “I’ve won it twice so it’s great.”

gordon-elliott-jack-kennedy-and-eddie-oleary-celebrate-winning-the-paddy-power-steeplechase-with-roaring-bull Elliott, jockey Jack Kennedy and owner Eddie O'Leary celebrate winning The Paddy Power Steeplechase with Roaring Bull. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Moreover, he is not getting into a slagging match, even when it comes to the seemingly absurd rating given to Dallas Des Pictons, the horse that unseated Kennedy before his injury. “The handicapper has his job to do. I’m not here to talk about the handicapper but that horse looks too high to go to Cheltenham.”

Pressed again about who might ride his Gold Cup hope, he says he’ll “talk to Michael and Eddie”. For what it is worth, I get the feeling he loves this horse, and for what it’s worth, I get the feeling he likes the chance of Tronador (Fred Winter) and The Bosses Oscar (Martin Pipe) too.

What I can say for certain is his hunger is unabated. The news Gigginstown was pulling out of racing, he says, “was the kick we needed”, as if he had been going through the motions while, as he admits readily, Mullins has raised the bar for everyone. He just has to better him.

gordon-elliott-speaks-to-the-media Elliott speaks to the media in his yard. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

His phone must have rung half a dozen times during our chat and I pick up that one of his missed calls is from ‘The Boss’.

“It’s Kevin O’Ryan. He used to always have Dermot Weld in the phone as The Boss when he worked for him, hence the name now.

“Don’t worry: it’s not Michael O’Leary.”

Self-made, as yet unmade. His own man.

About the author:

Johnny Ward

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