Tom Thurgood puts some potential stars from the Gordon Elliott yard, who are set to be in action at Down Royal on Friday and Saturday, under the microscope.
Here we go!
Some wonderful jumpers have already graced us with their seasonal returns in recent weeks but it’s fair to say things go up a notch now with the first Grade One of the season and a fantastic two-day fixture in prospect at Down Royal, live on Racing TV.
While the Ladbrokes Champion Chase is the highlight, it’s the abundance of potential top-notch young talent that genuinely raises excitement as the National Hunt season feels like it’s really and truly under way.
This Down Royal fixture has certainly enjoyed a higher profile in recent years, and that’s testament to a progressive track which was named Racecourse Of The Year by Horse Racing Ireland in 2017.
Yet it’s the increasing focus of trainer Gordon Elliott upon these two days – and particularly as a launchpad for his best young talent to attack the new season – which has significantly raised recent anticipation for this meeting.
Elliott and his travels north
The trainer sent out a fantastic five-timer and seven winners at this meeting last year – and all from just 17 runners.
Another big haul looks more likely than not once again since last year’s effort was no anomaly. Elliott trained six winners at the meeting in both 2017 and 2016 and saddled five winners back in 2015.
While Elliott’s success at Down Royal has remained fairly consistent throughout his training career and across the calendar year (19 per cent since 2010, 19.5 per cent since 2015), his strike-rate at this meeting has markedly increased in comparison.
Since 2010, Elliott has a 24.8 per cent strike-rate at the meeting. Since 2015, that jumps to 28.7 per cent.
Envoi Allen was last seen winning at the Cheltenham Festival
Elliott has always been a fine target trainer, yet despite the quality in his yard and slew of big-race victories, he is also synonymous with numerical strength, especially in valuable handicap chases which he’s proved so adept at winning throughout his career. “If you’re not in, you can’t win” is a trademark catchphrase.
Yet the emphasis on quality from Cullentra at this Down Royal fixture is noteworthy. Elliott has trained 27 winners at this meeting since 2015, and they include future Gold Cup hero Don Cossack, along with subsequent Grade One scorers Death Duty, Mega Fortune, Felix Desjy, Delta Work, Samcro and Envoi Allen. In addition, Tombstone, Coeur Sublime and Easywork all went on to place at the highest level.
Elliott’s novices are expected to win here, but we can also expect these horses to go on and be competitive at a very high level in the near-future.
While the numbers aren’t especially bad, Elliott has trained three winners from 19 runners in handicaps at this meeting since 2015, his runners as a whole performing below market expectation. This does not tally with the Elliott’s traditional strengths.
Rather, it is his novices and young, unexposed talent we need to watch. Here are some horses to watch out for on Friday and Saturday:
FAROUK D’ALENE - Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle (12.40pm, Friday)
The £260,000 point winner is unbeaten in two starts under Rules, making a huge impression at this track on Boxing Day before showing class and resilience in a deeper race to repel Fire Attack next-time out – himself an exciting prospect from the Joseph O’Brien yard and one of the best bumper horses in Ireland last season.
Jamie Codd labelled Farouk D’Alene “another monster for the Gigginstown machine” after that Rules debut and he’s clearly an exciting prospect this term. He looked a stayer in his bumpers and, if things go to plan, could make up into a Nathaniel Lacy and Albert Bartlett type.
Elliott has a 29 per cent strike-rate in maiden hurdles at this fixture since 2015.
The Champion Bumper third should take high rank in the mares’ novice hurdle division this season yet made heavy weather of it on her return, the 2/7 favouriite needing the line at Fairyhouse.
It’s easy to anticipate big improvement, though. That reappearance run was an uneven test at two miles, she was keen in the early stages out in front and Elliott memorably said afterwards “she was the one horse that came back in looking like a broodmare.”
Like most Elliott inmates, she jumped well on hurdles debut and was quick through the air on the right stride.
The most exciting jumps horse in training?
Unbeaten in eight starts under Rules, the four-time Grade 1 winner arguably posted his best-ever effort last time in the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival. This wonderful talent was bought to be a three-mile chaser and connections hope he is a future Gold Cup contender.
Elliott has won this chase for the last four years with A Toi Phil, Tombstone, Delta Work and Samcro.
CHEMICAL ENERGY - Down Royal Rainbow Commuynications INH Flat Race (4.10pm, Friday)
This big and powerful type took a bit of a hold at Roscommon and came widest around the outside yet still won by 10 lengths on debut.
He was very green when hitting the front and idled in the closing stages, not really extending away as looked likely with a few furlongs to run. Essentially, he was even better than the official margin and the form has a bit of substance.
His inexperience is a slight concern at a likely short price, but Elliott said his horse will improve plenty while Jamie Codd reported this is one of the trainer’s better youngsters.
Elliott has a remarkable record in bumpers at this fixture, training 8 winners from 11 such runners since 2015.
This unbeaten hurdler tops a strong crop of juveniles for Elliott so far this term and the market will be revealing in how stablemate Glorious Zoff matcesh up. The stable’s most fancied runner in the betting has landed three of the last five renewals, performance 57% above market expectation.
Quilixios was green at Punchestown last month but raced more kindly when given a lead and jumped nicely. The stable’s runners needed their initial outings at the time, but this classy-looking type proved a cut above and will surely improve from that stable debut.
A horse with a very big reputation and sent off a very short price on debut, he fluffed his lines in testing conditions at Navan after taking a keen hold but looked good next time at Downpatrick.
Seen as a sharper type by connections, this two-mile trip will suit in that regard although he did need a nudge three furlongs out at Downpatrick. Perhaps that was inexperience rather than needing more a of test in admittedly a well-run race.
Envoi Allen won this Down Royal race last year, also in the Chevely Park silks.
This £400,000 buy is yet to run under Rules but is currently the ante-post favourite for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. A horse with a big reputation, he looks another exciting National Hunt prospect for Cheveley Park Stud.
As previously stated, Elliott’s bumper runners are fancied here but they are still currently underestimated by the market as a whole given the trainer’s outstanding record in such races. He has sent out eight winners from 11 such runners since 2015.
Select any odd to add a bet