Champagne time for Elliott and Slevin after Classic victory
Having watched Willie Mullins rapidly erode his lead and then overtake him, Gordon Elliott hit back to win the race he wanted to win more than any other – save the Gold Cup – and with it came the festival's trainers' title for the first time.
Elliott, a protege of Martin Pipe, in whose honour the conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle is named, welcomed back the well-supported Champagne Classic and was positively delighted to receive the trophy from his old boss.
Indeed, so important to Elliott is Pipe that, while various winning connections have been seen taking their children up with them to collect trophies, Elliott requested Pipe accompany him for the presentation of his top festival trainer award.
“It’s great, I’m delighted,” he said. “To win it [the trainers’ title] is something special. Willie is an amazing man and a gentleman, it’s a pleasure just to be in his shadow. It’s a credit to the team and my owners. To have six, I can’t believe it. I’d have taken one, so six is unbelieveable.”
On the importance of the race in which he secured the win to draw level with Mullins – Elliott took the title by virtue of more placed horses – he added: “I said this morning if I couldn’t win the Gold Cup this is the race I’d like to win, so I’m delighted. We’ve been second in it twice so it’s great to win it.
“Apple’s Jade was sweet, Cause Of Causes was special, but to win the Martin Pipe after working for Martin – he’s a very good friend of mine – that was very special.”
The Elliott-trained ante-post favourite The Storyteller was ruled out less than a week ago, but he won the race anyway with a horse owner Michael O’Leary labelled "without doubt the worst" he owned and who was partnered by JJ Slevin, who admitted he tried to get off Champagne Classic to ride something else.
Champagne Classic’s success at 12-1 – a first at the meeting for Slevin – from Verni (25-1), Runfordave (9-1) and Coo Star Sivola (13-2), was also enough to land O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud the leading owner award.
Charlie Deutsch, who was unseated from Rather Be, suffered an arm injury and was taken to Cheltenham General hospital.