Treble hero Elliott readies new assault on perennial champion's crown
Gordon Elliott knows only too well that championship titles are not decided in December, but the king in waiting has once again laid down the gauntlet to Willie Mullins by stealing the perennial champion's thunder to become the first trainer to plunder each of the three Grade 1s on Fairyhouse's big winter spread.
A year ago, Elliott departed the same marquee festival with a lead over Mullins in excess of €500,000. Famously, he ended up being caught on the line in dramatic fashion at Punchestown.
This time on the showpiece Bar One Racing-sponsored card, Elliott conspired to secure a second successive Hatton's Grace Hurdle with the mighty Apple's Jade, whose sparkling display in destroying Mullins' reigning staying hurdling champion Nichols Canyon lit up a damp and dreary afternoon.
Either side of that monstrous performance, Mengli Khan stamped his authority all over his Royal Bond Novice Hurdle opposition, and Death Duty made all for a smooth victory in the Drinmore Novices' Chase.
All three were owned by Michael O'Leary's omnipotent Gigginstown House Stud firm, with Jack Kennnedy enjoying a Grade 1 double on the hurdlers and Davy Russell guiding Death Duty to success.
“To have three Grade 1 winners in one day is unbelievable. It’s something you dream about," Elliott admitted afterwards.
"Fairyhouse and Navan are my local tracks, and they seem to be lucky for me. My father and all the lads are here as well, so it's great."
On a fruitful day for punters, the treble paid relatively meagre odds of 6-1. Elliott ended the afternoon having breached the €2 million prize money mark, and extended his lead over Mullins to €412,450.
He was duly cut to atone for last season's near miss, although Paddy Power Betfair did not overact, trimming him to 6-4 from 9-4. Mullins, whose only winner on the day was Benie Des Dieux at Carlisle, was eased to 8-15 from 1-3.
There was a sense of deja vu to proceedings as the momentum again feels like it is with Elliott, the same as it did when he was similarly rampant this time last year.
However, his response to the suggestion that he might get over the line is also exactly as it was then. He continues to talk down any prospect of dethroning the 11-time champion.
“It’s great to be mentioned in the same sentence as Willie Mullins. He’s an amazing man. I look up to him," Elliott deflected when asked about avenging last season's galling defeat.
"Two years ago I thought if it took five or six years to win the trainers’ title I would be delighted. After all the hype it was heartbreaking not to win it last season, but to get that close was something special and we’ve started off again this season great."
That much is not in doubt. Once again, though, whose name will ultimately be engraved on the trainers' trophy come April 28 is very much up for decision. It promises to be another epic duel.
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