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Dublin: 4°C Friday 5 March 2021

Johnny Ward: Gordon Elliott remains one of Irish racing's most glaring enigmas

‘He is the messer at the bar who wants the night to continue, yet there is no chance whatsoever of him being late for work at the morning.’

Trainer Gordon Elliott (file pic).
Trainer Gordon Elliott (file pic).
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated at 12.25

AT LEAST TO this writer, Gordon Elliott remains one of Irish racing’s most glaring enigmas, the type of guy you might meet in the pub who is nothing out of the ordinary until you start to think about it.

His interviews are straightforward: to the point, little hyperbole. He is the son of a mechanic and had no racing background whatever yet secured success in the Aintree National before he even had a winner in Ireland.

He is the man whose victories and work-rate impressed the hard-nosed Michael O’Leary to the extent that he should give him far more horses than anyone else, yet he still finds time to watch Home And Away. Every day.

He is the messer at the bar who wants the night to continue, yet there is no chance whatsoever of him being late for work at the morning, be that even six o’clock in the darkness of a cave.

He is the demanding boss who plucked Jack Kennedy before the kid was even eligible to ride, but more specifically, before anyone else took him first, yet he is the man who gave good rides and hope to the maverick Paddy Merrigan, a journeyman who more often than not missed the train.

Even in the sanitised scene of a media visit to a yard, when trainers seem the nicest people ever all of a sudden, Gordon Elliott can only be Gordon Elliott. Last Wednesday’s visit of a scatter of English hacks and a handful of his compatriots was predictably illuminating.

Elliott has given me a bollocking before, which was fine, because I was wrong. On Wednesday, it soon became apparent that questions about Tiger Roll, specifically his injury and what it entailed, were not especially welcome.

The County Meath man, 41, reiterated that he was here to accentuate a positives that was, after all, the whole point of a day paid for by the sponsor of the Grand National, which wants Tiger Roll to show up as would the director of a play the bloke playing Hamlet. Perhaps one reads too much into things, but there must be some doubt about Tiger Roll giving it a roll for a third time.

Those who work for Elliott will say he is firm and, while he likes the bit of fun, you have to run a yard of this responsibility properly. So when Tiger Roll was wheeled out of his box rest to pose for the cameras, the visiting snappers were politely told they had about a minute, to be fair to the horse. No more.

All through, respect for this record-breaker among the journalists was telling. He had some reason to be on his toes, too, as this weekend could be defining in his season. The facilities he boasts at his stable in Cullentra House rival or compliment the virtuosity therein.

“Where’s Samcro?” I wondered aloud, sure there would be somebody among the army of Elliott lieutenants to guide us, Michael Verney of the Irish Independent similarly intrigued, to see what was or is the great white hope. Eventually Jack Kennedy, who returned to action on Thursday, showed us the way.

Samcro and Malone Road are stable neighbours. This year, Elliott decided to give Samcro a new barn which has, shall we say, a sizeable back garden. He can stay in his stable or simply walk out the back to get into the fresh air whenever he wants. They say in the rain the horses often prefer to be outside.

I’ve seen a similar set up at Henry de Bromhead’s and it must be a marriage of modern training and traditional methods. Horses are animals; by instinct they want to be outdoors. Samcro seemed a very happy horse on Thursday.

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gordon-elliott-stable-visit-cullentra-house Samcro is washed down by Shane McCann during the stable visit to Gordon Elliott's yard at Cullentra House, County Meath. Source: Niall Carson

He posed for a photo with yours truly in which Samcro made me look handsome (that and the filter on the Samsung S9). He is a stunner and, after a shambles of a season before this one, he is tackling fences now like a horse who was designed for nothing else.

He will take his chance in the Drinmore (1.30) Sunday at Fairyhouse, one of the best race cards of the entire year in Ireland. Apple’s Jade bids to get her career back on the rails in the Hatton’s Grace (2.40), Elliott not giving the impression that he is convinced she will, whilst perhaps the most talented of them all will take his chance in the Royal Bond (1.00).

Moscow Flyer, Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly went on to great heights after taking this Grade 1. Envoi Allen could be special and already the chat is about what race in Cheltenham will he be raging hot favourite in.

With Andy Dufresne in Cullentra too, I figure Envoi Allen will replace Malone Road (injured for the term) in the Supreme Novice Hurdle come March. Elliott, when asked would he take on the senior hurdlers this season, said mischievously: “Never say never.”

I asked him, too, about his ambition, pointing out that he still hadn’t beaten Willie Mullins to the championship. “Thanks for reminding me,” he said, smiling, and it was the perfect Elliott: joking, but at the same time deadly serious that his failure to reach the summit in Ireland is something that will irritate him until he puts it right.

Turf Range has a massive chance in the Dundalk Stadium – Light Up Your Night Apprentice Handicap (7.15) this evening, while I also really like the prospects of Adamaris in the Nursery Handicap (7.45), both trading around 8/1 with Betway.

And as much as many will will Apple’s Jade back to victorious ways on Sunday, Honeysuckle should have her measure and gets the nap treatment.

For Elliott, the performances of Samcro and Envoi Allen will matter more. Prepare to be amazed.

Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to discuss eye-gouging, Munster’s scrum-half situation, and the rest of the provincial news.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Johnny Ward

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