Elliott heaps praise on Death Duty ahead of Naas Grade 1 target
Gordon Elliott has described Death Duty as "definitely his best novice hurdler" and hopes the six-year-old can keep Willie Mullins at arm's length in the Irish trainers' title race by winning the Grade 1 Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday.
With an improved prize pool of €90,000, Sunday's showpiece will be well worth winning and Elliott has issued an upbeat bulletin on Death Duty, who is 4-9 favourite with Paddy Power to give him a first victory in the race.
"Death Duty's in great form and definitely runs on Sunday," Elliott said. "At this stage you'd have to say he's definitely my best novice hurdler and let's hope he can go out and prove that on Sunday.
"I was thrilled with what he did at Navan. It was always the plan to sidestep Christmas with him as he would not have enough pace for two miles.
"The race at Naas on Sunday has been the plan since Navan and everything has gone great with him since. He'll work on Wednesday morning and that will leave him spot on for Sunday."
Death Duty is one of three possibles from the Elliott stable, with Rundordave and the prolific Blood Crazed Tiger the others.
Mullins, who has won the race for the last three years on the trot, with Briar Hill (2014), McKinley (2015) and Bellshill (2016), also has three to choose from.
Wide-margin Punchestown maiden hurdle winner Turcagua is 3-1 second favourite with Paddy Power, while Augusta Kate is 8-1 and Asthuria is the longest priced at 12-1.
Elliott leads Mullins by €226,325 in the trainers' championship and the pacesetter admits he finds it hard to believe he is in front. He continues to write off his prospects of holding on to his advantage, although Paddy Power make it close between the two, pricing up Elliott at 11-8 and Mullins at 8-15.
"If you'd told me before the season began that I'd be leading in January, I would have laughed my head off and told you that you were dreaming," said Elliott. "We're in a great position but Willie has so much ammunition for the remaining months that I still think I have no chance.
"We had a bit of a mixed bag over Christmas but I'd have snapped your hand off before Christmas if you'd offered me eight or nine winners, including the Paddy Power and the Lexus. To win those two big races was brilliant and a big boost to the yard."
With 22 winners in just four days over the festive period, Mullins has now accumulated €2,373,375 in prize-money, and he has 18 entries this weekend between Cork and Naas.
The most high-profile of those is undoubtedly JLT Novices' Chase favourite Yorkhill, whose name appeared among ten for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase at Naas, a race won 12 months ago by Shaneshill.
Also entered are American Tom and Royal Caviar, both impressive winners of their beginners' chases, while the pick of Elliott's four-strong team looks to be wide-margin recent Limerick winner Stone Hard.
Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle
Paddy Power: 4-9 Death Duty, 3 Turcagua, 8 Augusta Kate, 12 Asthuria, Bel Ami De Sivola, 14 Runfordave, Stand Up And Fight, 16 Blood Crazed Tiger, Vinalhaven.