Sunday 25 March 2018

Gordon Elliott considering letting Cheltenham hero Labaik take his chance in the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle

The Labaik team following his Supreme success
The Labaik team following his Supreme success Newsdesk Newsdesk

Gordon Elliott is seriously considering a tilt at the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle with Cheltenham hero Labaik.

The enigmatic grey looked to be wasting his considerable talent after refusing to race on multiple occasions, but put his best foot forward to run out a brilliant winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at last month's Cheltenham Festival.

He has the option of sticking to novice company in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in a fortnight's time, but Elliott is not ruling out letting his six-year-old take on more experienced horses in the feature event on Friday, April 28.

"We never made a secret about how good we thought the horse was before Cheltenham, he just wasn't brilliant at jumping off (at the start) sometimes," said Elliott.

"We've put him in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown and that's a possibility.

"He's definitely running at Punchestown so if he doesn't go for that race he'll line up in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on the opening day.

"He's in great form. He just does what he has to do at home and I'm looking forward to his next run."

Labaik is set to be part of a formidable Punchestown team for Elliott as he bids to be crowned Ireland's champion National Hunt trainer for the first time.

The Cullentra handler currently leads perennial champion Willie Mullins by over 350,000 euros ahead of what could be a pivotal Easter weekend at Fairyhouse.

Apple's Jade saw off the Mullins-trained pair of Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini to win the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham and has entries in the Champion Hurdle, the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle and the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.

"We were delighted with her at Cheltenham - she's so tough and brave," said Elliott.

"We decided to miss Aintree and go straight to Punchestown and she's in really great form at home.

"She has come out of Cheltenham very well and I have put her in everything at Punchestown. We'll have a look through the races and decide nearer the time what she goes for.

"I'm really looking forward to running her."

Other likely Elliott representatives in County Kildare are Coral Punchestown Gold Cup contender Outlander, high-class novice hurdler Death Duty and and the juvenile Mega Fortune, who was runner-up to Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Going through his plans, Elliott said: "The plan is for Outlander to run in the Punchestown Gold Cup. He was good in the Lexus and we'll just look to put that run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind him. He was beaten after the first, he was never going and we will put a line through it. He's going well at home.

"It was disappointing with Death Duty in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham. We've always thought a lot of him and he came back from that race light. He's in much better form and the plan is to go to Punchestown all being well.

"Mega Fortune jumped really well at Cheltenham and just came up against a good one in Defi Du Seuil. I'm looking forward to Punchestown with him and he'll go for the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle. He's been in brilliant form since Cheltenham."

The mare Fayonagh, so impressive when coming from last to first in the Champion Bumper, is also set to be part of the squad.

"She's normally great starting off and it was a shame she got left at Cheltenham. Jamie Codd gave her a brilliant ride to recover and she must be a really tough mare to have done what she did," said Elliott.

"We've got the option of the championship race or the mares' contest with her."

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