Don Cossack and No More Heroes spearhead best-ever Festival team for Elliott
David Metcalf | March 2, 2016
Irish trainer Gordon Elliott believes he has the best and exciting bunch of horses he has handled heading to the Cheltenham Festival, including fancied duo Don Cossack and No More Heroes.
“Exciting bunch” for 2016 Festival
In a media stable visit, organised by Cheltenham Racecourse, the ambitious County Meath based handler outlined his strong team for the four-day extravaganza which gets underway on Tuesday, March 15th.
Elliott said: “I would say we will have close to 25 horses for The Festival. We have definitely got our best bunch going over and it is nice to have a few horses for the Graded races.
“This is the first year we are going over with horses disputing favouritism for the Gold Cup and the RSA Chase. We have got good each-way chances in a few of the other big races and millions for the handicaps. They are an exciting bunch as well.”
Here’s what Elliott had to say about some of his main challengers:
Quicker ground the better for Gold Cup hope Cossack
Despite his tumble in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, Don Cossack remains joint-favourite with Coral to win the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“Don Cossack is a good-looking horse and does everything well,” Elliott said. “There hasn’t been too much wrong for the last couple of years apart from falling in the King George and when he was beat in the Ryanair.
“They are the only two times he has been beaten in the last two seasons and you could arguably say he was unlucky both times. I didn’t always think he wanted nice ground.
“When he was a bumper horse, I thought he was a mudlark. That shows how wrong I was and maybe that is why his novice hurdle season was not as good as we hoped. In latter years, the quicker the ground the better he is and the more the ground dries out, the better his chance in the Gold Cup.
“He will have one more piece of work before the Gold Cup. They do plenty at home cantering away. I travel a lot of horses over to England and for me that is like their last bit of work. You have to leave a little bit in them because you can empty them very quick going over.”
“Delighted” with schooling session
Elliott also expressed his “delight” over Don Cossack’s schooling session at Leopardstown alongside other stable star No More Heroes, with both holding decent Cheltenham odds.
“It was a bit frightening looking at it because I told them to go steady but they got a bit excited,” he added. “Don Cossack and No More Heroes jumped from fence to fence and I could not have been happier.
“Why do you think Davy Russell was riding him there? I hope Bryan (Cooper) rides him in the Gold Cup, but if he doesn’t I will still have my arm around him because he is a big part of our team. Bryan might ride Don Poli, Road To Riches or Valseur Lido, I don’t know.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if he didn’t ride Don Cossack. I think the Willie Mullins factor is bigger than the Gordon Elliott factor. No matter what anyone says, if Willie bounces out and has three winners on the Tuesday it has to be in the back of your mind.
“I think if the ground came up on the softer side, he would definitely ride Don Poli. He probably knows in the back of his head who he is going to ride but he is not telling any of us.”
Hopeful that Cooper chooses Cossack as mount
Bryan Cooper has partnered Don Cossack in six of his last eight starts but, while Elliott hopes this continues, there are other jockeys ready to take over.
“I hope he rides Don Cossack, but if he doesn’t Davy Russell is there, Richard Johnson is there and Barry Geraghty is there,” the trainer said of Cooper and the situation. “There are loads of those lads without rides in the Gold Cup. Cheltenham is still a long way away but there won’t be a shortage of jockeys.
“We let Davy have a sit on but there isn’t much to it. I could have let Nina Carberry or Jamie Codd ride him. There was no big plan behind Davy riding him.”
Headgear “unlikely” and Djakadam the one to beat
Elliott appeared to rule out Don Cossack wearing headgear at the Festival and admits he is “most worried” about Mullins’ challenge to claim the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“I would say it is unlikely that Don Cossack will be wearing headgear,” he continued. “He went around Leopardstown the other day on a bit better ground and he jumped, travelled and did everything right.
“I don’t know why people can question Don Cossack’s record in Cheltenham. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I am more concerned about the ground.
“Djakadam’s record there reads two falls from three starts. Don Cossack has been Cheltenham twice. He fell when travelling well the first day and got a deplorable ride last year from Bryan Cooper.
“He put his hands up and said it. It wasn’t his finest hour, but we are a team here and we discuss it. Bryan know what he needs to do the next day.
“I am most worried about Willie Mullins in the Gold Cup. Obviously, you have to have massive respect for Cue Card but he travels so well and I just wonder will he get home.
“Vautour has so much pace but will he stay? Djakadam has been there and finished second. We know he stays and, for me, he is the one to beat.”
Cheltenham will suit RSA hope Heroes
Coral’s RSA Chase ante post favourite No More Heroes is the other main Festival contender from the Elliott stable yet, while he thinks his horse is suited to Cheltenham, the trainer feels race rival More Of That ought to be market leader.
“I thought he was very good schooling at Leopardstown,” said Elliott of No More Heroes. “He jumped bit big over the first couple and that I why we wanted to get him out because he has not run since Christmas.
“He went around there with a Gold Cup horse and the highest rated chaser in training. I think he would have learnt more there than he did in his novice chases.
“If we get him to the RSA Chase in one piece, we will be looking forward to it. More Of That should be favourite – he is a stayers’ hurdle winner and is unbeaten in four or five starts around Cheltenham. When you have a horse like that in race, it takes the pressure off me.
“No More Heroes is a stayer but he’s not slow. Jumping is his game and I think Cheltenham will suit him.”
Options open for improving Ball D’Arc
Despite the Cheltenham Festival being soon upon us, Elliott wants to keep his options open with Ball D’Arc. “He is in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and a few handicaps,” he said of the horse.
“We want to see what weight he gets before deciding which route to go. He is not definite to go and it will depend on what (owners) Gigginstown want to do with their other horses.
“He has been a different horse in the second half of the season. I would say nice ground is a massive help to him. His last two wins have been very good and if we had a few more like him we would be OK. He will be some horse to jump a fence with next season.”
Grand Annual the target for Bright New Dawn
Elliott confirmed the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase, which closes the Cheltenham Festival, is the race in which Bright New Dawn shall run. “He is a bit of a boy and will either run very bad or very well,” he said.
“The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual will suit him because he can drop in and they go flat out in that race. He won the last day and Felix Yonger has been a length either side him on his last few runs. I just could not rely on him.”
Campeador could wear hood in Fred Winter
“The plan is the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle,” Elliott said when asked about Campeador. “He ran too keen in Leopardstown, having won very well in France.
“He is working well at home and it will be interesting to see what mark he gets. We like him and he is a nice horse. He will have to improve a lot on his last run but hopefully he will. He was wearing a hood this morning and I will have to speak to connections, but he will probably wear it at Cheltenham.”
Kim Muir or Ultima for grand servant Causes
Elliott must decide whether to field Cause Of Causes in the Ultima Handicap Chase or Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
“He has been some horse for us,” the trainer told reporters when asked about Cause Of Causes. “He won a Ladbroke Hurdle, was second in a Galway Hurdle, was just beaten in the Kim Muir and won the four-miler.
“He will either go for the Ultima Handicap Chase or the Kim Muir. He is working very well and we are absolutely thrilled with him. You saw him there this morning, he was pulling the arms out of Jamie Codd.
“I would love to go for the Kim Muir with Jamie riding but it will be up to connections. His jumping is getting better. He gets caught out in Ireland on that heavy ground – he doesn’t have the scope – but on good ground he is very good.”
Desoto in fine shape ahead of County Hurdle
Bemoaning bad luck in the Coral Hurdle at Leopardstown back in January, Elliott is aiming Desoto County at the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle
“He was a bit unlucky in the Coral Hurdle at Leopardstown,” he said. “He missed the start and was too far out of it before flying home. That was his second run for us.
“He has got a mark of 147 and I said there is no point running him again so he is going straight for the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle. He came out Leopardstown great. He looks like a bull and I could not be happier with him.”
Diamond King and Jetstream Jack among strong hurdling team
Turning his attention to the horses set to test themselves over hurdles around Prestbury Park, Elliott had plenty to say.
Diamond King: “He won nicely at Punchestown last time and we decided to leave him after that. He goes straight for the Coral Cup and seems in great form. It has been the plan since he came here really so we are really looking forward to it.”
Eshtiaal: “He won three or four for us last year, won on the Flat at York and then he was second in the American Grand National in October. We have given him a nice break and he is working very well. I would say he will go for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle with Luke Dempsey on him.”
Fagan: “He went to Musselburgh the other day and was just beaten by O O Seven. I thought it was a very good run and he will go for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He is owned by Ronnie Bartlett and it will be nice to support his race. Fagan won’t disgrace himself. We will drop him in and I bet there will be more horses behind him than in front him at the finish.”
Jetstream Jack: “He is in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle and the Coral Cup. I will have to speak to Graham and Diana Whateley as they have other horses, but he is a nice horse. If he goes for anything, it will probably be the Martin Pipe.”
Crow a Killer each-way bet
The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, which closes the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, will contain Killer Crow and Elliott feels his horse “has a good each-way chance”.
“He was second in the Leopardstown Handicap Chase the last day and we said we would mind him for this,” the trainer explained. “He has got a mark of 136 in England and it is a 0-140, so I think it will be a tight enough race.
“The horses he has finished around have franked the form. He doesn’t want heavy ground and I think the ground on the first day of The Festival will be beautiful. I think the race is made for him.”
Top pilot planned for Endeavor
Elliott is also targeting a senior amateur rider to partner Noble Endeavor in the National Hunt Chase. “He was just beaten by Killultagh Vic at Cheltenham last year,” he said of his entrant.
“He has finished around a few of the favourites for the National Hunt Chase, including Roi Des Francs, in all his beginners’ chases on very soft ground.
“I think four miles at Cheltenham will be right up his alley and Jamie Codd will ride him if he runs. He is in a few of the handicaps as well and we want to see what way he is handicapped but, if I get my way, he will definitely be going for the four-miler.
“His form is solid and it’s always a help when you have been to Cheltenham and done it. He races behind the bridle which is why I think the four-miler will really suit him.
“No disrespect but if you’ve got Jamie Codd, Derek O’Connor, Nina Carberry or one of those senior amateurs they are worth a stone in those races.”
Our Father down to a fair mark
It’s the Kim Muir Challenge Cup that Our Father is being aimed for by Elliott, not the 2016 Grand National at Aintree next month.
“I’m sure everyone knows about Our Father,” he said. “He seems to run well fresh and that is why we are going straight for the Kim Muir.
“He is in the Grand National but isn’t going to get in. If he was he would have gone straight there instead. The owners wanted to give him a change of scenery and obviously I am good friend of David Pipe’s, so it was better that he came me rather than someone else!
“He has had his fair share of problems and David has done a wonderful job with him. I wouldn’t say we can improve him but he is good fresh and might be down to fair mark. And with Nina Carberry riding, it will be a massive help.
“He works very well and you only have to look at the paper and see the prices he’s gone off at – that tells you he’s probably always worked well.”
Coral Cup or Martin Pipe for Squouateur
Elliott has to choose between the Coral Cup or Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle for JP McManus horse Squouateur “He has done nothing wrong this season,” he said of the horse. “He won in Leopardstown and the last day at Fairyhouse.
“I think the latter race would suit him well with Jack Kennedy riding him but it will be up to connections as they have so many horses. Maybe they might want to keep him for Fairyhouse or Aintree.”
The Game Changer capable of running big race in Arkle
Being realistic, Arkle Challenge Trophy entrant The Game Changer is fighting it out for a placed finish, but Elliott fields if conditions suits his horse represents each-way value.
“He has won four or five chases including three Graded races during the summer,” the trainer pointed out. “The better the ground the better the chance he’d have, although it will be very hard to beat Douvan if he stays up.
“We’re playing for places really, but if the ground dried up he would have a good each-way chance. He has also had a wind operation since his last race, so we are looking forward to it. He used to be a bleeder but he lives outside now and has been a different horse since we have done that.”
Supreme favoured for Tombstone
For Tombstone, Elliott is “leaning towards” running him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but there is also an entry in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, with both races on the opening day of the Festival.
“He has been very good, being just beaten in two Grade Ones,” Elliott observed of Tombstone. “I thought we were a bit unlucky the first day but the second day there was no excuse – we just got outstayed by a better horse on the day.
“He was way too keen over Christmas and I thought he should have won that day. He got knocked down turning in but that is racing and it’s over now so you worry about the next day. I will definitely leave the hood on him.”
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