5 things we learned from our visit to Gordon Elliott's yard

The doors were opened to the County Meath farm today with the start of the Cheltenham Festival just two weeks away.

Trainer Gordon Elliott with jockey Simon McGonagle and stable star Don Cossack.
Trainer Gordon Elliott with jockey Simon McGonagle and stable star Don Cossack.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

1. He’s hoping for firmer ground

A NUMBER OF Elliott’s stable stars, including the stunning-looking Don Cossack (Gold Cup), Tombstone (Supreme (most likely)/Neptune) and The Game Changer (Arkle) don’t enjoy soft ground and Elliott is hoping to see the turf dry up a bit over the next fortnight.

One exception to this rule is World Hurdle hopeful Prince of Scars who Elliott feels wouldn’t be without a chance if the ground comes up on the softer side. But if the ground is on the easier side of good Elliott said that he won’t run the six-year-old.

This year’s festival will see Elliott bring his strongest team yet across the Irish Sea, with the current Gold Cup and RSA favourites in his yard, but he is praying for better ground in two weeks’ time.

2. Cullentra House Stables is a youthful place

It’s amazing when you consider that Elliott trained Silver Birch to win the Aintree Grand National in 2007, at the age of 29.

Elliott turns 38 tomorrow and one of the things that stood out around the yard was the low age-profile of those working there.

One of the youngest riding out at the yard today was jockey Jack Kennedy, one of national hunt’s rising stars, the 16-year-old has been tipped to have a huge future in the sport as he continues to move through the racing ranks at remarkable speed.

3. Bryan Cooper won’t confirm his Gold Cup ride until he has to

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Cooper has a big Gold Cup decision to make, and it’s a dilemma any jumps jockey would surely welcome with open arms.

A retained rider with The Gigginstwon House Stud, the Kerry native has the likes of Elliott’s Don Cossack, Willie Mullins’s pair Don Poli and Valseur Lido, and Noel Meade’s Road To Riches to choose from.

The 23-year-old recalled watching Ruby Walsh having to choose between Denman and Kauto Star for the Gold Cup in 2008, imagining having such riches to choose from.

Now he finds himself at the centre of the speculation.

Cooper admits that he will be kicking himself for six months afterwards if he makes the wrong call. So he won’t be announcing his decision until he has to, at the declarations, on the Wednesday morning before the big race.

4. New lease of life for The Game Changer

Seven-year-old The Game Changer is a different animal these days, according to Elliott.

He hasn’t stopped winning, recording successive victories at Roscommon, Tipperary and Punchestown, since undergoing a wind operation to sort a bleeding issue.

The bay gelding also resides outdoors these days, away from the stables, and it’s a move that has clearly reaped rewards.

Willie Mullins’s Douvan is the odds-on favourite for the Arkle but Elliott feels The Game Changer (currently 16/1) makes for an excellent good each-way bet.

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5. Elliott is craving big-race glory at Prestbury Park

Don Cossack Don Cossack gets cleaned up after a light workout. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Elliott has had five winners at Cheltenham, including Carlito Brigante’s Coral Cup win in 2011, but he is desperate for success in the festival’s Grade 1 races.

While he admitted that he has to pinch himself at times when he looks at how far he has come, there is no time for Elliott to sit back and admire the empire he is building. He doesn’t want to get caught standing still.

Expansion is the topical word at his County Meath yard right now; there are plans for 30 more stables this year and a natural swimming pool. And you get the impression that is all part of the plan to close the gap on champion trainer Mullins.

Winning a couple of big ones in Cheltenham would certainly show that Elliott is heading in the right direction.

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About the author:

Alan Waldron

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