winner all right | 

'It was a long six months, I learned a lot about myself' - Suspension only fuelled Gordon Elliot's thirst for winners

Work riders and horses doing their morning work at Cullentra stables. Photo: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Work riders and horses doing their morning work at Cullentra stables. Photo: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Michael Verney

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Gordon Elliott’s thirst for winners is stronger than ever before with the Meath trainer churning out 66 winners since returning from a six-month suspension in mid-September.

That’s almost a winner a day, with business as usual for the leading jumps trainer, but he never thought it would be any different with winners the only currency of any value to him.

“Yeah, I did, yeah,” Elliott said matter-of-factly when asked if he thought he could get back to this elite level so quickly. “I was raring to come back, it was a long six months and I learned a lot about myself and also a lot about a lot of other people, but I’m back now raring to go and it’s great to be back.”

While Elliott feels there is a “rebuilding” mission on the cards after his time away, the 43-year-old insists there are “exciting times ahead” with a star-studded squad heading for the Leopardstown Christmas meeting next month.

Stable stars like Delta Work, Abracadabras, Samcro and Fil Dor are being aimed at the Foxrock track, while Elliott also hopes to have stable jockeys Jack Kennedy (broken arm) and Jordan Gainford (broken wrist) back in the saddle for the festive period.

Kennedy has had a wretched run of injuries in recent years, with several long stints on the sidelines, but Elliott insists the Gold Cup-winning rider will return as good as ever.

“They are two great young fellas, I’m looking forward to having them back. Both are in the yard every day of the week so they’re missed at the moment, but both are hoping to be back at Christmas all going well.

“Anyone that knows Jack knows that this won’t faze him. He’s the most laid-back person you’ll ever meet. He’s a world-class jockey and it won’t affect him at all, he has all these horses to come back and ride and I’m behind him 100 per cent. Hopefully he’s going to be with me for a long time,” Elliott said.

Another Cullentra star is the mighty Tiger Roll, but Elliott admitted the dual English National winner “isn’t what he was” ahead of a likely reappearance at Aintree this weekend, with a third win in the Liverpool showpiece not at the forefront of his agenda right now.

Tiger Roll missed last year’s Aintree Grand National due to an ongoing dispute between owner Michael O’Leary and the British handicapper over his jumps rating, with the people’s horse instead finishing a distant fourth behind Clan Des Obeaux in the Grade One Betway Bowl.

His participation in next year’s National is up in the air ahead of the 11-year-old’s seasonal return in the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase on Saturday – where Willie Mullins’s dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo could be among his opponents.

“Ah look, he probably isn’t what he was, but it we can get him back to win another Cross Country race it’d be a dream come true. He’s a horse of a lifetime and just to have a horse like him around the place is unbelievable, he’s just a little superstar,” he said.

After landing a third Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham in March – and his fifth Festival triumph in all – Elliott sees that as his long-term target while taking in the Boyne Hurdle en route with an Aintree hat-trick a tough ask as a 12-year-old next April.

“If you’re going to dream, you’d love to go back and win a third Grand National but the stats don’t lie, it’s running on three years since he ran in a Grand National. It’s not going to be any easier for him, he’s not getting any younger,” Elliott said.

“To be honest, if you were to ask me I’d love to win another Cross Country race in Cheltenham with him, I think if he won it would bring the roof down in Cheltenham. For me looking at Cheltenham this year, Tiger Roll winning was probably one of the proudest moments I ever had training horses.”

Elliott has always been a regular racegoer since taking out his training licence in 2006 and having heaving crowds back at Irish tracks – much like that seen to greet Honeysuckle’s Hatton’s Grace success at Fairyhouse – energises him.

“The racing public are great, from the first couple of days we went back racing we were clapped into the parade ring, it’s great to be back and you meet brilliant people racing and just the atmosphere,” he said.

“Navan last week and Fairyhouse this week, the atmosphere and the crowd there was just . . . you kind of take it for granted for the last couple of years when the crowds haven’t been there. It’d put hairs up on the back of your neck watching the crowd.”

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