Watch Donn McClean's interview with Gordon Elliott s and read what the top trainer at the Festival for the past two years says about his leading contenders.
Gordon Elliott has won The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at the Cheltenham Festival for the past two years and will not be short of ammunition when he seeks to retain his crown next month.
Elliott looks set to send a raiding party of between 50 and 60 horses, the majority owned by Gigginstown House Stud. The quality and quantity at his disposal has not been underestimated by the bookmakers, who make him a general 11-8 favourite to be top trainer.
His total of 22 wins at The Festival include Don Cossack's victory in the 2016 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Shattered Love is likely to represent him in this year’s renewal.
Elliott's battalion is led by the mighty mare Apple's Jade, a ten-time Grade One winner who is set to take on dual champion hurdler Buveur D'Air in the £450,000 Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Here’s what the Cullentra handler, 41 next month, had to say about his leading lights on Tuesday February 19.
Race: Unibet Champion Hurdle. Best odds: 9-4
Our experts analyse Apple's Jade's Irish Champion Hurdle win
It's all systems go for the Champion Hurdle with Apple's Jade. This year, she has just gone from strength to strength and she was impressive when dropping back to two miles last time out.
I hope there is more improvement to come and, if she runs to the form that she has run too so far this season, then she will have a big chance in the Champion Hurdle.
I am not saying she is going to win, but if she turns up like she has in her last three runs, then she has a great chance.
It was well publicised that she was in-season at Cheltenham last year (when third in the Mares’ Hurdle) and it is something that we will keep an eye on. We knew straight away what was wrong with her and hopefully we will have a clear run with her.
We will just keep doing what we do with Apple's Jade and we will keep checking her. The girls who look after her every day are keeping an eye on her cycle and hopefully everything will be alright.
She will not need a whole lot of work before Cheltenham - she is pretty fit and hopefully she just stays fit between now and then. I think giving her another run this year has been important. I would say that is the one mistake we made with her last year that we did not give her another run before Cheltenham. She seems to be thriving on a bit of running.
Apple's Jade does not have to lead in the Champion Hurdle. She was taken on for the lead in the Hatton's Grace and I would arguably say that was her best run of the season.
It's Jack Kennedy's job to ride her and he knows what to do. Me, Eddie and Michael [O'Leary, Gigginstown House Stud] were going to go to the Mares' Hurdle with her before Leopardstown, but the manner of her victory the last day meant we thought we should give her a chance. It's the Champion Hurdle and it is the race we all want to win.
Race: Ballymore Novices' Hurdle. Odds: 5-1
Dave Yates and Rishi Persad look back at Battleoverdoye's latest win
Battleoverdoyen is in good form. I didn't run him at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival as he had three quick runs and I wanted to give him a break.
He jumps very well and I've been pleased with his work at home - I think the Ballymore will suit him. He might lack a bit of experience, but timing wise, I think we've made the right decision to give him some time off and go straight to Cheltenham. I think Galvin (priced at 50-1) is another horse who could run in the Ballymore."
CARTWRIGHT, DALLAS DES PICTONS and FLAWLESS ESCAPE
Race: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle. Odds: 25-1, 13-2 and 25-1
They'd all be likely runners at this stage.
COMMANDER OF FLEET
Race: Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. Odds: 8-1
How good is Commander Of Fleet?
He won a Grade One nicely at Leopardstown the last day. Three miles will suit him in the Albert Bartlett and he can take his time early and hunt away. He is a nice horse, but I suppose the one negative with him is that he does lack a bit of experience, having had just three runs over hurdles, so we might try and get a school into him before the Festival."
DEFI BLUE and DINONS
Race: Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. Odds: 33-1 and 28-1
Elliott confirmed both were on course to join Commander Of Fleet in the line-up.
Race: RSA Chase. Odds: 4-1
Watch how Delta Work won at the Festival last year
Delta Work is very well. I did not run him at the Dublin Racing Festival as I just feared the ground was a bit too quick for him. He has plenty of experience over fences with three runs under his belt and two Grade One wins to his name. I thought I had everything to lose and nothing to gain by running him.
Race: Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Odds: 11-2
Envoi Allen just does what he has to do, everything was against him last time with the track and the ground and more of a galloping track will suit him.
Envoi Allen is a nice horse, but is one for the future and is hopefully an exciting three-mile chaser in time.
I've probably had speedier horses than him in bumpers, but you won't see him at his best until stepping up to three miles.
I will probably run four in the bumper with Thatsy, Daylight Katie and Abacadabras, who ran out in the race at Leopardstown which Envoi Allen won, also going there.
Race: Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Odds: 20-1
We dropped him in at Limerick, but he is just a relentless galloper and he did it well at Punchestown last time too. He also runs in the Supreme. We would be happy to make the running with him in a Supreme as he just wants to go a good end-to-end gallop. I am looking forward to going chasing with him over two miles next year.
Race: Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase. Odds: 25-1
I'm thinking about stepping Hardline back down in trip. He won over an extended two miles and three furlongs at Limerick. I know Getabird made a mistake that day and I'm not saying he was going to beat him, but he also won a Grade Three over slightly shorter (2m 1f) at Navan the time before so stepping him back down in trip might not be an issue.
I'm not saying we will beat the favourite for the race, Le Richebourg, as he looks the best in Ireland this season, but the Arkle is on our minds. Hardline ran well last time after being slightly slow at a couple of fences. He made up good ground between the second-last fence and last before getting tired, so I think he will have a good each-way chance in the Arkle.
Race: JLT Novices' Chase. Odds: 25-1
I'm thinking about stepping him up in trip for the JLT. I'm disappointed with him as he is just not having a cut at the fences and sometimes Flat-bred horses can do that. It's not concrete, but the JLT is something we are thinking about.
Race: Sun Racing Stayers Hurdle. Odds: 9-1
Our experts put Samcro's win 12 months ago under the microscope
There's nothing new to report with Samcro. Cheltenham is coming fast enough, but he has the option to go there for the Stayers' Hurdle, Aintree and Punchestown. The next 10 days are important and I cannot tell you any more than that.
Samcro looks good, but it is not the be all and end all. If he gets to Cheltenham, he does or he'll go to Aintree or Punchestown or we take the shoes off and we wait to go chasing next season. There is no decision made on where he is going yet.
Samcro had a bad lung infection and it happens from time-to-time with good horses. It's not ideal, but it's not the end of the world. When you have horses like that who lose their form, nine times out of 10 they have a problem. We have identified it and hopefully he will return to his best form.
He didn't do anything for a couple of weeks after his lung infection and a couple of weeks at that stage of the season is crucial for those horses - every day is very important. If he did run at Cheltenham, I would not be taking any chances with him and he would be very fit.
Race: Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Odds: 33-1
Watch how Shattered Love won the JLT last year
She came back with sore shins last time and the ground was quick enough for her that day. She has a few bits to do, but all being well the Gold Cup is the aim.
We are going into the unknown in terms of trip with her and that is a worry with every horse, but if she turns up in the same form as she did in the John Durkan, then she should have a great each-way chance.
It's a positive that she has won at The Festival and she is a good form. I think she could finish in the first four or five, but she is no Don Cossack [Elliott's 2016 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup winner]. She also has a nice weight for the Grand National so we will consider that."
Race: Ryanair Chase. Odds: 25-1
He will probably run in the Ryanair Chase. He would need a lot of things to go his way to win it, but I think we are leaning towards that race. The way he is ridden, he could have a squeak of getting into a place in the Ryanair. A better race would suit him than the Irish Gold Cup last year as that was a messy race.
Race: Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. Odds: 5-4
Tiger Roll has come out of the Boyne Hurdle in very good form.
I couldn't believe how well he won on Sunday and it surprised me. I thought he would finish second or third, but that was a good pipe-opener for the Cross Country Chase which remains the plan and that is where he is going. He showed how good a horse he was on Sunday.
To win a Grand National, three races at the Cheltenham Festival and a Boyne Hurdle, highlights his talent. He is a yard favourite and it was a great performance.
His enthusiasm for the game is unbelievable and he is one of the most versatile horses I've ever had. He might not be the best I've ever trained, but he is certainly the most likeable.
Race: Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Odds: 20-1
I was disappointed when he got beat at Limerick, but did it well at Punchestown last time. The plan is to go straight to the Supreme with him.
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