Gordon Elliott is confident Conflated is “in the mix” for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup after deciding against bidding for back-to-back victories in Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last weekend.
The nine-year-old was a surprise winner of the Dublin Racing Festival feature 12 months ago, but proved that was no fluke by running well before falling in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham before pushing Clan Des Obeaux close in the Aintree Bowl.
Following a promising comeback run at Down Royal in the autumn, Conflated dominated Leopardstown’s Savills Chase over the Christmas period, but Elliott elected to keep his powder dry for the blue riband in the Cotswolds next month.
Speaking at a press event at his County Meath yard on Tuesday morning, the Cullentra handler admitted he was heartened to see Fury Road – third behind Conflated over the festive period – finish a similar distance behind Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs when third again on Saturday.
“We decided not to run him in the Irish Gold Cup and he’ll go to Cheltenham fresh and well,” he said.
“I suppose the fact that Fury Road led over the last the other day would give me hope that Conflated could run a good race in Cheltenham.
“I probably ran him in the wrong race last year going for the Ryanair. The way he ran in Aintree last season and the way he ran in Leopardstown the last day, I think the Gold Cup will suit him.”
The Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs strengthened his position at the head of the Gold Cup market with an eight-length verdict at Leopardstown – and while not everyone was blown away by the performance, Elliott expects him to prove a tough nut to crack.
He added: “Galopin Des Champs sets the standard and he’s the horse we all have to beat, but I think we’re in the mix.
“When you look at the re-run, I thought Galopin Des Champs was probably more impressive than when you watched it the first time. Paul (Townend) had him asleep and it probably took him a bit to wake him up, but he galloped from the last to the line well.
“I just worry about my own horse, but I wouldn’t mind having him!”
Conflated will be part of another formidable team Elliott is preparing to send to Prestbury Park in less than five weeks’ time, with his novice chasing squad particularly strong.
He houses the ante-post favourite for the three-mile Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in Saturday’s Scilly Isles victor Gerri Colombe, while Mighty Potter is cramped odds for the Turners’ Novices’ Chase after bagging his fourth Grade One win at Leopardstown on Sunday.
“Over two and a half miles softer ground would suit Gerri Colombe, but he’s not a mud lark and is not as slow as you’d think – he’s just so relaxed,” said Elliott.
“I’d say over three miles plus in the Brown Advisory he’ll be fine on better ground and I think the further he goes the better he’ll be.
“He’s a very unassuming horse who doesn’t do anything exciting at home, but he knows how to win.
“He’s so relaxed and I think the Brown Advisory is made for him.
“Mighty Potter is probably relaxing more with racing. He jumped great the other day and it was only when you watch the re-run of the race that you realise how good he was,” said Elliott.
“He’s an unassuming type of horse and it wouldn’t worry me to come back to two miles, but at the moment we’re going for the middle-distance race.
“Envoi Allen was the real thing and there was Samcro and Don Cossack. We’ve had a few nice novice chasers, but I’d say he could be bang up there.”
Teahupoo is a major hope for the Elliott team in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle after inflicting a first career defeat on Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse before successfully stepping up to three miles in the Galmoy at Gowran.
The six-year-old was bitterly disappointing when quietly fancied for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, but Elliott is putting that performance down to the trip rather than the track.
He added: “I would say he was taken off his feet over two miles last year. He’s not a big heavy horse but I don’t see why he wouldn’t be alright over three miles. It’s not going to be very quick ground and if you listen to Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty over the years talking about Stayers’ Hurdle horses, you have to be behind the pace and relax. That’s exactly how Teahupoo is and nothing fazes him.
“It’s probably the most open of the ‘Championship’ races, especially as Gavin Cromwell’s horse (Flooring Porter) is only 50-50 to get there. He was very good at Fairyhouse (when winning the Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in December) and the form is working out. He wouldn’t impress you at home, but he seems to do it on the track.
“I’d say if you look at his runs at Cheltenham and Punchestown last year he was just swept off his feet over two miles – we were trying to make him a quicker horse and he just isn’t. He looks like he’s really found his niche over the longer trips, at Fairyhouse he was doing his best work at the finish and he was very good over three miles the last day.
“I thought we had a squeak in the Champion Hurdle last season, but he was just taken off his feet, but he relaxes really well in his races and that lets him stay three miles.”
While Conflated, Gerri Colombe, Mighty Potter and Teahupoo will all head to Cheltenham with solid claims, Elliott appears particularly confident about the chances of Delta Work, who is all set to defend his crown in the Glenfarclas Chase over the cross-country course.
The multiple Grade One winner played the role of pantomime villain last year when denying his dual Grand National and five-time Festival-winning stablemate Tiger Roll, but he will return 12 months on as a red-hot favourite after finishing third under a big weight at the track last month.
“I won the race so I didn’t mind, but it would have been the perfect send-off for Tiger Roll to have won last year obviously. It wasn’t to be, but he got a great reception,” said Elliott.
“I was very happy with Delta Work’s run the other day. He was giving the winner and the second a lot of weight and off level weights, it looks like he’s thrown in.”
While Elliott is still finalising running plans for some members of a squad, a few of the pieces are beginning to fall into place.
He added: “Three Card Brag will probably go for the Albert Bartlett along with Favori De Champdou. Cool Survivor ran well the other day and he’ll probably go for the Martin Pipe or he could go for the Albert Bartlett as well.
“Absolute Notions might not be badly handicapped and he can probably go for a handicap more so than a Grade One.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t run American Mike in Leopardstown the other day. He scoped bad after Navan and there was something wrong with him, so we’ve missed a good part of the season.
“I was looking forward to running him the other day, but couldn’t due to personal reasons and it’s hard to find a race for him now.
“He’s entered in a Listed race over two miles at Navan on Sunday, which isn’t ideal, but I kind of need to get a run into him because he can be a fresh horse and I just want to knock the freshness off him.
“Better Days Ahead will go straight to Cheltenham now. John Kiely’s horse (A Dream To Share) was impressive the other day but the bumper horses in Ireland are maybe not be as strong as they have been. My horse is a good horse. Kings Of Kingsfield will run in it as will the horse who won at Leopardstown (Pour Les Filles). We should have three in the race.
“If going for the Bumper isn’t the right thing to do we won’t do it, they need a good attitude to go for it. It’s a race we won with Envoi Allen and Fayonagh – and I had a strong part to play in Sir Gerhard too – and it’s not a race for every horse.
“No Time To Wait looked a good horse at Down Royal and will be entered in the race but I’m not sure whether it would be the right thing to do at this stage of his career.”
“King Of Kingsfield will run in it as well and Pour Les Filles who won in Leopardstown under Harry Swan, we’ll probably run the three of them.”
Looking ahead to The Festival, which he has trained 34 winners at already, Elliott said: “Most of the horses have probably had their last runs now, so we’re picking and choosing where to go.
“We’ve got a nice bunch, with a few going under the radar I think, so it’s exciting and I can’t wait to get over.
“We’ve probably started the season as easy as we’ve ever been to our horses. A lot needed the run first time out, but we’re getting there now. We’ve a good bunch of horses and it is exciting times. We’ve got some nice bumper horses as well as novice hurdlers and chasers as well.”
Elliott is still hoping Jack Kennedy will be fit in time to return at the Cheltenham – but admits it will come “down to the wire”.
Kennedy has been on the sidelines with a broken leg since early January, but immediately stated his intention to return in time for the big meeting.
As a result of his injury, Davy Russell, who had only recently announced his retirement, reversed that decision to come back and ride as first choice for Elliott, principally for last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival at which he partnered Mighty Potter to Grade One glory.
“We’re keeping everything crossed Jack will be back. He’s going to the hospital on Thursday and he’s going to Dubai then for a week for a bit of sun,” said Elliott.
“It’ll be tight and he knows that – it’ll be down to the wire. But if he’s back he’ll be riding everything. He’s number one now and all these horses are waiting for him to come back.
“I’d say for Jack’s own peace of mind he’d like to ride a day (before Cheltenham). If he’s not coming back on the Sunday before he’s not going to ride on the Tuesday, that’s the way I’m looking at it.
“Jack has been unlucky with injuries, but saying that he’s only 22 years of age and he’s ridden 36 or 37 Grade One winners.
“He came to Leopardstown on Sunday and was in the ring with the horses and out on the track. He’s got a great attitude. All jockeys get falls and to have horses to come back and ride is very important and he has the backing of me.
“People will say he’s been unlucky to break his leg four or five times, but the fall he got off that horse the other day he’s lucky he didn’t break his neck – it was a haymaker.”
Russell himself is taking a few days to recover from a fall at Leopardstown on Sunday.
“Davy got a couple of bruised ribs the other day and he’s a bit sore, but Davy is made of steel,” said Elliott.
“If it was six months’ time or three months’ time, the conversation with Davy (coming out of retirement) would never have happened. Jordan (Gainford) and Sam (Ewing) would have stepped straight in, but they’re two young lads who are very talented riders and world-class jockeys and I just felt they could do with a bit more time.
“If anything happened to Davy or Jack they’d be riding all the horses, but I was just trying to do the right thing for them and bring them along quietly.
“Cheltenham is a daunting place and you need a big attitude to go over there and ride.”
When asked if there was a possibility both Kennedy and Russell could ride at Cheltenham, Elliott added: “I’d say whatever happens Davy will be over riding out for us on a morning and if anything happens to Jack, Davy will be there to pick up the pieces, but he knows he’s keeping the seat warm for him.
“I haven’t even had the conversation with Davy about it (riding at Cheltenham). At the moment we don’t know if Jack is going to be back so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
“Myself and Davy talk most days and I’ve been friends with him since I was 16 or 17. Credit to the man for him to step back in and I’m sure he’ll be in Cheltenham.”
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