Albert Bartlett favourite Death Duty leads the charge for rampant stable
He has seized a grip on the Irish trainers’ title and now Gordon Elliott is plotting to take the Cheltenham Festival by storm with his strongest ever team, led by Death Duty who he described as the best novice hurdler he has ever trained.
Death Duty is hot favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on the Friday of the festival when Elliott defends his Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup crown, claimed last year by Don Cossack, with Lexus Chase winner Outlander and Don Poli.
Elliott, who landed three Festival wins last season, his best tally yet, will send approximately 30 horses, his biggest team yet, across the Irish Sea and boasts the favourite for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate in Diamond King and strong chances in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle with Apple’s Jade and Ryanair Chase in Empire Of Dirt.
But Death Duty, unbeaten over hurdles, rates the ace in the pack and the trainer said: “We'll have several horses travelling over with decent chances but there's no getting away from it - Death Duty appears to be our big hope.
“He's a very good horse and I'd say the best novice hurdler we've had. His four wins this season have all been over two-and-a-half miles but he's crying out for three miles. He jumps well and is a very laidback sort. He's a lovely prospect for staying chases next season.
"The Albert Bartlett has been the race I've had in mind for him for some months now. He's been racing on soft or heavy ground but if there's a sounder surface at Cheltenham it shouldn't be a problem, although we wouldn't want it really fast."
Apple's Jade, who achieved her third Grade 1 win when edging out Vroum Vroum Mag in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December, is expected to improve after her recent defeat by Limini in the Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown a week ago.
He said: "I'm making no excuses for Apple's Jade getting beaten at Punchestown. She was beaten fair and square by a better mare on the day but she will come on for the run and better ground and a strong pace will suit her. Hopefully, she'll get a lead as she can be a bit idle."
Outlander, a top-priced 10-1 with bet365, Betway and Paddy Power for the Gold Cup, has not run since beating Don Poli in the Lexus over Christmas and his absence from the track over the past two months was one of choice.
Speaking at his Cullentra House stables in Co Meath on Tuesday, Elliott said: "The Lexus was Outlander's fourth race of the season and we decided to give him a break and to have him fresh and well for Cheltenham. He's never run over three and a quarter miles but he got three miles well in the Lexus and we don't see the extra distance being a problem.
"We'll probably drop him in and let him work his way into the race. Compared with many of his rivals, he's still a bit unexposed and hopefully he will improve on what he's done so far.
"Had we not had to retire Don Cossack then he'd probably be a short-priced favourite for the race this year. This time our two runners don't have the same sort of profile but we're looking forward to running them in the Gold Cup.
"I'm not stupid enough to think we're going to win the race. It would be a dream result if one of them could win but they're entitled to take their chance in what looks an open race and their preparation is going well."
The enigmatic Don Poli, who finished third behind Don Cossack a year ago when trained by Willie Mullins, has two festival wins to his credit in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle in 2014 and RSA Chase 12 months later.
Elliott said: "You never know what you're going to get from Don Poli. His first run for us at Down Royal in November was embarrassing. We sent him hunting and he was much better in the Lexus and again in the Irish Gold Cup last time when he finished a good third. Hopefully, he'll hit another going day in the Gold Cup.
“It will be Bryan’s [Cooper] call as to which of them he'll ride and he'll probably delay a decision until as late as possible. Whichever one he rides then Jack Kennedy might ride the other one although I'll have to discuss that with Michael and Eddie [O’'Leary]."
Elliot said: "He's shown he stays three miles but the way he travels in his races would make you think the shorter trip in the Ryanair will suit him.”
A year ago Diamond King came from off the pace to give Elliott a second win in the Coral Cup and the trainer said: "He was very good on his chasing debut at Galway when he won by 14 lengths on good ground.
"He made a bad mistake at the last in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse on his second start and then found the heavy ground too much for him at Limerick in December. He's in good order and we're hoping for goodish ground for him. If we get it he should represent us well.."