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Elliott off the mark at Down Royal in his new title bid

By Ron McKnight

Gordon Elliott had topped the trainers championship all season until having to yield to Willie Mullins at Punchestown, but he scored on day one of the new campaign yesterday at Down Royal when Ballela Boy won the novice hurdle.

Ballela Boy, under a positive ride from Davy Russell, led a 1-2 home for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown operation as favourite Bel Ami De Sivola could not get past Ballela Boy in the closing stages.

The winner was originally produced by Banbridge trainer Gerry Cosgrave, who won a bumper at Naas with the horse prior to his sale to racing fan Ryanair boss O’Leary.

Elliott said: “We said we would have a kick at the back of the second last and have one go and thankfully it worked.

“There wasn’t much between the two horses — only a jump. We are off the mark, thank God!

“He will probably go chasing through the summer.”

Art Of Payroll was an emotional winner of the beginners chase with handler Sandra Hughes having last week announced her intention to quit training.

Art Of Payroll jumped to the front five from home and was always travelling well, proving the easy winner under Denis O’Regan.

Hughes said: “It has been a long time coming for him as he has been up against some competition, but the ground is the key to him and that’s the best he’s had.

“Denis gave him a great ride. He said he would sit third or fourth and I said his jumping would do the talking and that’s what happened.”

Swantykay held on in a photo finish in the feature chase to prevail for trainer Ellmarie Holden — the first leg of a double after  His Dream won the last — and jockey Donagh Meyler.

Holden said: “He had his ground, he had his trip and Donagh gave him a super ride.”

The hunter chase featured  another tight photo finish with Camilla’s Wish, partnered by Lisa O’Neill, just prevailing over the local trained favourite Chosen Dream. 

Ornua, trained by Henry de Bromhead with Barry O’Connell aboard, justified support and made all the running to score in the maiden hurdle. 

O’Connell said: “I got into a nice rhythm and he enjoyed the ground.”

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