Samcro leads strong team as Elliott eyes trainers' title
Gordon Elliott will unleash a battalion of stars for next month's Punchestown Festival headed by Samcro, Apple's Jade and Mengli Khan as the Meath trainer looks to seize the Irish trainers' championship from Willie Mullins.
Samcro's target will be decided closer to the time and all eyes will be on the much-vaunted six-year-old, which oozed class with a clear-cut win in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, reported to be in "great form".
His victory was a great relief to Elliott, who described himself as "very lucky to have him", and his prospects for next season are not yet clear with a possible tilt at the Champion Hurdle or a chasing career yet to be confirmed.
"It's still all up in the air. We're still toying with the idea of training him for the Champion Hurdle next year, but nothing is set in concrete yet. I'll have to talk to Michael and Eddie O'Leary. We'll get Punchestown out of the way and make a plan then," Elliott told At The Races yesterday.
After being pipped at the post last season, the Cullentra handler is gunning for retribution and a maiden trainers' crown but despite leading Mullins by approximately €500,000, he remains typically pessimistic about his chances.
"Like I said last year, I probably have no chance. Willie's ammunition for Punchestown is unbelievable, but we'll give it a good rattle. We'll do our best and that's all we can do."
Supreme Novices' Hurdle third Mengli Khan is likely to go for the two-mile novice hurdle before "definitely going chasing" next season while Apple's Jade is coming back to herself after a below-par effort when failing to retain her Mares' Hurdle crown.
"Apple's Jade is grand. She came home very quiet and she was bit under the weather for a few days, but she's back cantering away. She got beat fair and square by a very good horse on the day, but she just didn't run her race and wasn't herself," he said.
JLT winner Shattered Love could also clash with the Mullins-trained Footpad in Sunday's Ryanair Gold Cup and with Henry de Bromhead's Petit Mouchoir also set to take his place, that promises to be a cracking contest.
Elliott also reported three-time Cheltenham Festival winner Tiger Roll, which will lead his English Grand National team, in fine fettle as he bids to follow in the footsteps of Silver Birch and give the 40-year-old his second win in the Aintree feature.
"He's had a great preparation. That cross-country race has been a lucky stepping-stone over the years. He's in great form, he's well and the more the ground dries out between now and Aintree, the better the chance he'll have," Elliott said.
"He's a horse who when he's on song he's very good. It's the Grand National. If you're not in you can't win and it's definitely the plan. We haven't any firm plans who'll ride but it will be either Davy Russell or Jack Kennedy."
Elsewhere, veteran chaser Cue Card will have the final run of a glittering career at Sandown next month with trainer Colin Tizzard confirming the 12-year-old for the Oaksey Chase on April 28 having been pulled up in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival.