If you see Gordon Elliott at the door of an Irish racecourse you might at first sight think he was the security man. Some days you’d never think he mixed with some of the richest owners of thoroughbred racehorses. I’ve seen men who look like him working as bouncers outside nightclubs. But there the similarity ends.
Gordon Elliott is a gentle giant with a growing stable of very able horses. He has a calm, reassuring manner about him, characteristics that attracted him to Michael O’Leary whose Gigginstown operation places many of its horses in his care.
The County Meath based trainer says: “Gigginstown are great owners, fill my boxes and keeps us going. They first sent me a horse in 2008 and after a month I had to ring them up and tell them it was wrong in the wind.
“I was very nervous about giving bad news but Eddie (O’Leary, racing manager) said, ‘Oh, that’s alright. We have just bought a horse off Barry Hills, it will be with you next week.’ The horse was Tharawaat, who won five races for us. Happy days.”
The O’Leary family trust Elliott implicitly. Eddie says: “Gordon has made remarkable progress. He is a very honest, hard working guy. He trains with a natural instinct and always has a plan.”
Elliott reflects: “We have some great English owners as well as the best Irish ones and we are getting a better type of horse.”
As for the upcoming Cheltenham Festival, well there has been a change in thinking when it comes to the 10 year old gelding, Roi Dui Mee.
In November Gordon Elliott said this: “He’s not really a Grade 1 horse in what he has done or to look at and we would not have a chance when it comes to Cheltenham.”
Two months on and Roi Du Mee is declared to race in the Ryanair Chase, a top class Grade 1 race scheduled for March 12th. Since Elliott poured cold water on his chances late in 2014, Roi Du Mee won a Class 1 Listed race at Tramore and won by 8 lengths. Good form, but still a long way from making the old boy a favourite for the Ryanair Chase. I expect competition for that race to be stiff, writes Vernon Grant.
Mount Benbulben is another Elliott horse but, so far at least, has no Cheltenham entry. The trainer explains why: “It’s his jumping that lets him down. When that holds up he has a massive chance.”
As January turns into February, trainers tend to keep their festival options open. For example, Elliott has one of his better hopes for Cheltenham glory, Don Cossack, entered into three potential races, including the Gold Cup. Mala Chase is entered for three races, including the Grade 1 RSA Chase. Tiger Roll has two entries, the Grade 1 World Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle.
Elliott comes from humble beginnings and has to pinch himself when he’s dealing with multi millionaire owners and rubbing shoulders with Willie Mullins.
He says: “I came from nothing. My father was a panel beater, he and my mother are my biggest supporters. I didn’t grow up with anything but I didn’t find it lacking. I wasn’t much into school and I used to muck around on ponies with (jockey) Jason Maguire, who was and is my best friend.”
Magurie says of his mate: “I definitely expected him to go training. Before I went to England he was messing around with a few horses for point-to-points.
“Besides being heavy he had a couple of injuries when he was riding, he broke his pelvis one time. But he had learned a lot from Tony Martin and Martin Pipe, he was that driven, and I always thought he would make it. In 2007 I rode Silver Birch to be second for him in the cross-country at the Cheltenham Festival but in the Grand National I had to ride Idle Talk for Donald McCain. I got unseated and Robbie Power gave Silver Birchh a great spin to win it.”
Maguire concludes: “Many people must have thought it some fluke but you could soon see that Gordon would make it.”
Elliott was the youngest trainer to win the Grand National. But he learned plenty from some of the most experienced in racing.
Martin Pipe pays tribute: “He was a great lad. He was a good rider but his weight was always going to be a problem. He was very interested in all that was going on and he was keen to learn everything. He said he was going back (to Ireland) to train and we wished him well. He certainly had talent and was dedicated to it.”
And what was the best advice Pipe offered Elliott?
Gordon says: “You should keep your horses in the worst company and yourself in the best.”
Pipe offered that advice back in 2006 when Elliott entered a 100/1 shot in a race at the Cheltenham Festival. Elliott says: “He asked me what I was doing there and, all proud like, I told him I had a runner. But what he was trying to tell me that I should be going to Sedgefield where I could have won a race instead of going to Cheltenham just to have a runner at the festival. He was right. My horse was pulled up before the fourth!”
No such problems these days. Gordon Elliott has earned the right to take horses to the Cheltenham Festival and I would not be at all surprised should he have a winner.