'We can't duck and dive, that's the big difference' - Elliott on British racing
Gordon Elliott thinks the ducking and diving which takes place in Britain before March is compromising the home team's chances of Cheltenham Festival success.
Irish trainers have been responsible for 41 of the 56 winners at the last two festivals and last Saturday week was a forgettable day for British racing with a walkover on a big card at Ascot and just 30 runners at the entire meeting, which was live on ITV.
Elliott, who has enjoyed more than 400 winners in Britain during his career, said the greater number of meetings made it easier for big runners in Britain to avoid each other.
The trainer said: "A lot of the problems [with British racing] they have brought upon themselves. We have the best racing here because we have to take each other on every day. We have the best owners, the best horses, the best trainers, so there’s no hiding place in Ireland.
"If you go to a maiden hurdle in Clonmel on a Thursday, you could be taking on a Grade 1 horse. In England, I think they dilute it too much.
"It was good to see Nicky’s [Henderson] two horses [Constitution Hill and Epatante] taking each other on the other day, but that doesn’t happen in England too often because they can duck and dive each other the whole time.
"We know when we go to the big races that we’ve got the best horses because you have to take each other on. If you have two different owners in the yard, we have to take them on and you find out who the best horse is."
Elliott's ultimate aim is to be crowned champion trainer in Ireland, but he admitted that was not easy with Willie Mullins around.
He said: "If you asked me for one Christmas wish, I’d say to be champion trainer one day. Lads would always be slagging the rivalry, but we’re very good friends, myself and Willie. In Ireland, we’re all good friends – most of us, anyway – and it’s good fun.
"I think I’ve been second to Willie for the last eight or nine seasons. If you asked me ten or 11 years ago would we be in the position we’re in, I’d have probably laughed at you. It’s something I dream about, being champion trainer. I want to do it, and it will happen someday, hopefully, but I'm very unfortunate to be around in the same era as Willie Mullins. We’ll keep him honest anyway."
Elliott has tweaked his training methods this season. It is no coincidence that he had just 11 winners in October compared to double that for the same month last year. He has sent out 37 winners in November, nine more than the same month in 2021.
He said: "We went at it a little bit differently this season. We said we might just start them off a little slower, not be as hard on them early, and let them all come on for their first runs to see if they can last a little bit longer in the season. For the last couple of seasons, in the last three or four weeks of the campaign we’ve just been running on red.
"I’m trying to improve the place the whole time. Like a kid when he goes to a toy shop, every time I go to a yard and I see something new or see something someone else has, I want it. I’ve put everything I’ve had into the yard, and I just want to make it better. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do."
Elliott is not the only one chasing a title at Cullentra and the trainer is full of praise for Jack Kennedy, who is leading the jockeys' championship with 64 winners, 16 more than his nearest pursuer Danny Mullins.
Elliott said: "Jack is making Davy [Russell] hungry, and Davy is making Jack better, but Jack is kind of stepping into the first jockey role. There is no official first jockey, but Davy is not going to be around forever and with these young horses coming along, I need a bit of consistency, and Jack getting to know the young horses going forward – if they go chasing or stay hurdling, or whatever. It’s a great position to be in. They're two world-class jockeys.
"When Jack sees a jump he is just different, a bit special. He has a great pair of hands on him, and horses jump great for him. He is not physically very hard on a horse, so we always have a horse coming home. He’s just very, very good – world class. It’s unbelievable that he has ridden 33 Grade 1 winners and he’s only 23."
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