Elliott pins hopes on Brigante boosting strike rate
Triumphant with Silver Birch in the 2007 John Smith's Grand National during his first season training, Gordon Elliott would dearly love to make the breakthrough also during the Cheltenham Festival with Carlito Brigante.
One of the prime fancies for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, this classy recruit to Gigginstown House Stud owner Michael O'Leary's jumping squad has already paid a handsome dividend on his modest purchase price.
Mildly successful on the flat last year with the David Wachman stable, Carlito Brigante has taken kindly to jumping and goes into the fray in the Cotswolds with a hat-trick of wins to his credit.
Twice at Musselburgh on the good ground he relishes the gelding has won in convincing fashion, in between putting up his most notable performance to date when defeating current Triumph Hurdle favourite Alaivan with something to spare at Leopardstown after Christmas under Davy Russell.
No wonder then that the Trim-based Elliott, who recently celebrated his 32nd birthday, is more than hopeful that Russell's mount can do the business once more in the JCB promotion and enhance the yard's splendid British strike rate.
"He's in very good form at the moment and I believe he is improving the whole time. I think the Cheltenham course will suit him well, he's a tough horse and won't mind coming up the finishing hill," Elliot says.
"Jumping at speed will be a help as well and we know he stays going. I rode a couple of winners there at the November meeting when I was with Martin Pipe, but only had a couple of placed mounts for him at the festival."
He adds: "Silver Birch has been runner-up there for us in the Cross Country Chase since his Grand National success and goes back next week for another crack at that race off a handy enough weight with Robbie Power riding again.
"The old horse worked nicely the other day when we took him to Fairyhouse and has been doing well in this type of race. Chicago Grey travels too for the Coral Cup but has been raised 10lb by the English handicapper to a stiff mark of 151."
In contrast Meath All Star, which is among the mammoth entry for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, was dropped 5lb recently over there, forcing his trainer's hand to run him again yesterday. "We sent him to Wincanton to win so he could pick up a 5lb penalty that would help his chances of getting into that race."
The horse duly obliged under talented teenager Keith Donoghue and will be on a hat-trick mission at the festival.
Naturally the contest named in honour of Britain's multiple former champion trainer, who handed over the reins to his son David, is close to the Meath man's heart as he remains a firm friend of the Pond House family.
"I go back to the Pipes four or five times a year and have gone on holiday with David. I was there full-time for over a year and it was great to win around Cheltenham for Martin aboard the likes of Iris Bleu and James Pigg."
Happily for Elliott he not only picked up the winning habit from his time at Pond House to augment over 150 victories as a point-to-point rider, he's learned the art of getting them ready at home and placing his charges profitably. "Have horse, will travel is my motto -- the idea is to keep them in their own class and you've to go where they can win," he says.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the Elliott-trained racers have generally had their owners dining out frequently. For example a worthy tally of 25 winners and 35 placed horses already this season on the home front for gross earnings of well over €300,000 has been topped up nicely in Britain.
A familiar face on the scene across the Irish Sea, which saw him claim Perth's leading trainer title last seaon, Elliott has enjoyed another 32 winners this term for a tally of more than £220,000, including last August's big victory at Ffos Las by Backstage, which has developed into a leading contender for a second Aintree success on behalf of his team.
Blessed with enthusiastic staff, the Summerhill native has added a new gallop to his excellent schooling facilities at the Capranny, Trim yard where the late Barry Kelly prepared Crowded House for some high-profile wins.
Elliott has invariably made his mark too with point-to-pointers, many of which graduate successfully to the racetrack to back up promising types Ballymak and Jessies Dream which he anticipates both prospering over fences next season.