Man behind the horse


Joseph Callan talks to Irish trainer Gordon Elliott about his preparation for the Cheltenham festival.

Gordon Elliott is a man who has soared to success since becoming the youngest trainer to win the Aintree Grand National. At only twenty-nine years old, the Meath native trained Silver Birch to come home clear of the rest of the field in the 2007 renewal of the race. Since then, Gordon Elliott’s career has reached unexpected heights in a short time. In August 2010, Elliott showed that his interests didn’t just lie in National Hunt racing by winning the prestigious flat race, the Ebor Handicap, at York racecourse with Dirar. Now approaching Cheltenham 2012, Trim’s Capranny Stables is one of the yards Irish punters will be watching closely.

Gordon’s interest in racing began at a young age. “Suzanne Finn trained up the road from me and I started going there at a young age; from there I went on to Tony Martin’s yard and picked up my interest.”

Elliott’s interest in racing developed relatively early in life, but he is a firm believer that it is never too late to get into the sport: “I didn’t get into horses until I was thirteen or fourteen, so I don’t believe it would be too late for someone in college to develop a strong interest in the game. Racetracks should be letting students in for free a lot more, and having more fun days for students at the races. I mean, at the end of the day, students will be the ones who will eventually keep the sport going.”

Elliott was lucky enough to enjoy success as a jockey as well as a trainer, most notably winning the Punchestown Champion Bumper on the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained King’s Road in 1998. Both jobs have their thrills and fair share of letdowns, and Elliott has worked with some of the best trainers in his time as a jockey, where he would have learned a great deal before eventually becoming a trainer. “As a jockey after a ride, you can walk away. Training is a 24/7 job but it is a very good buzz when you’re training a good one. I always rode as an amateur jockey and training was something I always wanted to do. I can’t say any one person was my inspiration to take out my training license, but Martin Pipe was always somebody I looked up to.”

With Cheltenham just around the corner, Gordon Elliott is preparing his horses for the trip to the festival, where the best horses, trainers, and jockeys in Ireland and England meet to battle it out for the most prestigious prize in National Hunt racing: “This year I plan on bringing ten horses over. Horses like a routine, and with Cheltenham coming up, I try to keep their routine the same. I will gallop them differently some days, but we try keeping everything as simple as we can for the horses. When we get to Cheltenham, we will keep the horses in stables that are on the racecourse. We try to have them there two days before they run and in Cheltenham we are able to canter the horses around the inside of the track in the days leading up to the races.”

Last year in Cheltenham, Irish horses and trainers put on a spectacular performance at the festival, and won a record thirteen races. This year, hopes are equally high. Elliott hopes that this achievement can be repeated, but the Irish owners and trainers wait in anticipation to see what handicap mark their horses have been allocated for this year’s festival, stating, “A lot depends on how the handicap weights come out next week; we will just have to wait until next week for a better idea”

Many Irish punters will be hoping to come home from the festival after backing a few winners and making a profit. At any bookies office or racetrack at this time of the year, everybody will be listening attentively for tips. Elliott expresses his own hopeful expectations for the week; “For me, Hurricane Fly is the banker of the festival. I hope to have good runs from all our horses but Shadow Catcher in the Triumph Hurdle on the Friday is what I believe is our best chance of the week.”

The days are counting down until the starter’s flag is dropped in the first race, at the Supreme Novices hurdle on the 13th of March, when the cheers of the crowd will bellow across Prestbury Park, marking the beginning of the elite racing festival. Hopes will be high for all Irish jockeys and trainers involved, as will be, undoubtedly, the hopes of their supporters.