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Cheltenham 2017: Gordon Elliott in with a chance of being champion trainer

By  Ashley Iveson

If Gordon Elliott was not considered among the training elite this time last year, he certainly is now.

It will be 10 years next month since the 39-year-old burst on to the training scene when claiming Grand National glory with Silver Birch, by which time he had not even trained a winner in his homeland.

Wind the clock forward a decade and Elliott has saddled eight Cheltenham Festival winners — headlined by the brilliant Don Cossack in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup — and in less than two months’ time could be crowned Irish champion National Hunt trainer for the first time.

Elliott was the chief beneficiary when Gigginstown House Stud made the shock decision to remove the 60 horses they had in training with Willie Mullins last September, with big guns Outlander, Apple’s Jade and Don Poli among those to make the move.

The split between champion trainer and owner has had a huge impact on the Irish National Hunt landscape.

But Elliott has continually insisted he has “absolutely no chance” of holding off his major rival until the end of the season.

For now, though, the trainers’ title will have to wait, as despite Don Cossack’s retirement, Elliott sends his strongest team yet — numerically at least — for the showpiece meeting at Prestbury Park.

“I’d say we’ll have 30 going over and most that are going will have chances of getting in the winner’s enclosure. I’ll have a runner in most races, apart from the Champion Bumper,” said Elliott (right).

“We’ve no Don Cossack this year, but we’ve got plenty of chances and we’re really looking forward to it.

“On numbers I’d say we have a lot more fancied ones this year, but we had three winners last year and it will be hard to beat that.

“This is Cheltenham, it’s the Olympics, so nobody will be missing it because of the ground. There’s no excuses on that score, not unless it’s rattling quick or bottomless and I don’t think that’s going to happen.

“You need luck every day you get out of bed don’t you, so yes, you need a bit of luck.

“We’re in a very lucky position at the moment, with the horses we have, the owners and the staff — it’s second to none.

“I think we’ve got 170 stables here now and we’ve got seven walkers and a swimming pool.

“We’re just having some work done on another gallop and once that’s finished we’ll have four different gallops. We’re improving the whole time and thankfully it’s working out and we’re getting the results.

“I keep saying we’re nearly done, but I’m like a child — every time I see a new toy I want it!

“We’re just trying to improve the place and improve ourselves.”

On his chances of taking Mullins’ crown, Elliott added: “It’s something, of course, you dream about, to be champion trainer. Of course you think about it, I’d be telling you a lie if I said I didn’t.”

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