Elliott dampens title talk after top-level treble
Gordon Elliott was refusing to get carried away by talk of a first trainers' title despite making history by claiming all three Grade One winners on the big pre-Christmas card at Fairyhouse.
The Cullentra handler has made rapid progress in the last couple of years to become a dominant force both in Ireland and Britain, thanks in no small part to the increased support of leading owners Gigginstown House Stud following their well-publicised split with Willie Mullins in 2016.
Elliott led this year's Irish title race by almost €300,000 heading into day two of the Winter Festival in Co Meath and stretched further clear by becoming the first man to land the Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, the Hatton's Grace and the Drinmore Novice Chase on the same day.
Elliott said: "This is what it's all about. To train three Grade One winners in one day is unbelievable. It's something you dream about."
Despite enjoying an incredible afternoon, Elliott is taking nothing for granted, with memories of last year's title race - when he looked home and dry heading into the Punchestown Festival, only to be denied by a late Mullins charge - still fresh in his mind.
"Willie Mullins is an amazing man and just to be in the parade ring with someone like him is great. He's a man I look up to and it's nice to beat him an odd time," Elliott added.
"Last year was heartbreaking. You get so far and then get beat with two days to go."
Mengli Khan (evens favourite) got the Elliott bandwagon rolling with an impressive victory in the Royal Bond under Jack Kennedy and is the general 7/1 favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Elliott said: "He could be a better horse on better ground and is a two-miler. We will probably have a look at something over Christmas, but we'll get him home after today and make sure he's in one piece."
Kennedy swiftly doubled up as Apple's Jade produced a brilliant front-running display to retain her crown in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle.
The even-money favourite was nine lengths too good for eight-time Grade One winner Nichols Canyon and is the 7/4 favourite to win the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham for the second time.
Elliott said: "She's only five years of age and she's six Grade Ones won. She's a different mare at home this year than she was last year.
"We will give her a bit of a break now and she might go back to Punchestown for the race she got beaten in last year (Quevega Mares Hurdle in February).
"The Mares' Hurdle (at Cheltenham) is the plan and then Punchestown (Festival). If we mind her, we might get a few years out of her."
Death Duty (8/11 favourite) completed Elliott's dream day by extending his unbeaten record over fences to three with an all-the-way success in the Drinmore under Davy Russell.
Each of the five novices jumped soundly in the main, with Death Duty leading the pack from flag-fall.
Rathvinden was right in his slipstream rounding the home turn, but Death Duty had too many guns and was well on top at the line.
"He's a horse I've always liked, but maybe I was getting it wrong last year saying he wanted three miles. He could be more a JLT (Novices' Chase) horse," said Elliott.
Gavin Cromwell's Espoir D'Allen impressed in the Juvenile Hurdle, while the burden of top-weight did not stop Pat Kelly's Cheltenham hero, Presenting Percy, dominating his rivals in the Porterstown Handicap Chase.
Rachael Blackmore gave further evidence of her considerable talents by guiding the talented, but tricky, Davids Charm to a lucrative victory in the two-mile handicap hurdle.