Punters side with Elliott to wrest title from Mullins' vice-like grip
Willie Mullins has had the trainers’ title by the scruff of the neck for the past ten seasons but the public’s money would suggest the champion trainer may be beginning to loosen his grip – with Paddy Power and Betfair Sportsbook reporting mass support for Gordon Elliott, who is out to land the prize for the first time this year.
The 39-year-old made Mullins pull out all the stops at a memorable Punchestown festival last spring, ultimately losing out by little under €200,000, and the firm’s representatives are anticipating a similar showdown between the two powerhouse stables for the remainder of the season.
Last term Elliott enjoyed a terrific start to his campaign, winning valuable handicaps such as the Galway Plate, Kerry National, Munster National, Troytown Chase, Paddy Power Chase, Dan Moore Memorial and Leopardstown Chase, all big wins that were recorded by the end of January.
There were also Grade 1 successes in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, the Lexus Chase and the Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle in the early stages of last season.
Fast-forward from then until now, and while Elliott has enjoyed a similarly good start in handicaps this season, winning another Kerry National and Troytown Chase, as well as last Sunday's €100,000 Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase with bargain buy Doctor Phoenix, the Meath maestro has also become an increasing force in the top-flight races.
He became the only trainer to win all three Grade 1s on offer – the Drinmore, Hatton's Grace and Royal Bond Novice Hurdle – at the Bar One Racing-sponsored meeting at Fairyhouse in December, having landed the Champion Chase the previous month at Down Royal.
The stable then carried that form into the festive period, winning another three Grade 1s at Leopardstown courtesy of Apple's Jade and unlikely pair Mick Jazz and Shattered Love.
The Cullentra House trainer currently leads the king of Closutton by almost €500,000, and while the lion’s share of the prize-money has yet to be won, Barry Orr, of Betfair Sportsbook, said punters are siding with Elliott to maintain the advantage.
“All the betting on the Sportsbook has been for Gordon, barring a few quid for Willie we saw last week," he said.
“We’ve got betting on the exchanges as well but it’s very much a watching brief for many as the big battle grounds are going to be at the Dublin Racing Festival and at Punchestown in the spring.
“There was £44,032 matched on the title betting alone last season on the exchanges."
He added: “You’d imagine it’s going to be a real ding-dong tussle between the two and it will probably go down to the wire at Punchestown, just as it did last season, but all of the money has been for Gordon so far.”
It was around this time last year Elliott was questioned about the title race and quipped that he would need to be about €1 million clear of Mullins heading into the Punchestown festival to have any real chance of winning. Time has proven that there could be a lot of truth in such a statement.
A year ago Elliott’s lead was just over €300,000, with Paddy Power retaining faith in Mullins at the time, making him a 4-6 shot to hang onto his crown despite the gap.
This year the firm are not taking any chances and it is Elliott who heads their betting at 4-6, with Mullins 11-10.
The firm’s spokesman Paul Binfield said: “We saw a bit of money for Willie before Fairyhouse last Sunday when he looked to have a strong hand in the Dan Moore with Polidam, Acapella Bourgeois and Townshend, but then Gordon brought home the bacon.
“It hasn’t been the busiest of markets just yet, but it did pick up a bit after Christmas. We were long odds-on about Willie retaining the title over the summer, and laid 9-2 about Gordon, but we’ve been 4-6 about Gordon since the turn of the year and 11-10 about Willie."
He added: “Our own prediction is that Willie will still win it despite Gordon’s advantage as two key events remain – the new two-day Dublin Racing Festival and Punchestown, where he usually has his troops in terrific order.”
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