Since he saddled a record 14 runners in Sunday’s Troytown Chase at Navan Gordon Elliott might have been peeved if one of them, Coko Beach, hadn’t actually won. So, a day later, slight exasperation at questions about such dominance possibly producing competition fears was perhaps inevitable.
Precisely quantifying the link between unprecedented Irish success in National Hunt racing, and how the flag is being flown by a tiny oligarchy, is an all but impossible task. But there is a link, and it’s a sore one for the vast majority whose names aren’t Elliott, Willie Mullins or Henry De Bromhead.
Grumbling at so much talent concentrated in the hands of so few is nothing new and is often cyclical. But right now, given Elliott’s stunning rate of success, even his two greatest rivals could be forgiven if they considered referring him to the competition authority.
At just a dozen fixtures this month, he has saddled 29 winners. A scarcely credible 13 of them came in just a couple of days, topped by the first Grade One winner of the season, Gerri Colombe, at Down Royal.
With €2 million in prizemoney already in the bag for this season, Elliott is half a million clear of his old rival Mullins in the trainer’s championship. Given the latter has yet to unleash his real heavy artillery, in all probability it’s a temporary lead. Elliott’s okay with that, but not so much with flak about competition getting squeezed.
“I started with nothing. I didn’t get handed anything. I worked hard for everything I got,” he told media on Monday, referencing how his rise from mechanic’s son to top of the racing tree represents one of sport’s most unlikely underdog stories.
[ Trainer Gordon Elliott enjoys another fruitful day at Navan ]
As for a remarkable Troytown scenario that smacked of anything but underdog, he added: “We didn’t stop any other horse running in the race. If I only ran two, there might have been only eight or nine runners in the race.
“I think for a €100,000 race, for Bar One, who sponsored it, and Navan racecourse, it would have been embarrassing if there were only eight or nine runners. All my owners paid training and entry fees and they want to run so I don’t think I’ve anyone to answer to. All I want is to do the best for every horse and every owner.
“Unfortunately, that (concentration) is the way the whole world is going. We all give out about Dublin winning everything and Limerick hurlers winning everything. We all want to be there. I wish Meath football was like Dublin and Kerry. Unfortunately, it’s not. But we’ll keep trying.”
Navan’s action was the first date in a revamped pre-Christmas ‘festival’ programme that continues over two days at Punchestown this weekend. Not surprisingly, Elliott is a fan of the concept which later progresses to Fairyhouse and a triple top-flight programme.
It’s at that Winter Festival that Elliott enjoyed the first of his 84 career Grade One winners to date when Jessie’s Dream landed the 2010 Drinmore. Since then, there have been 37 Cheltenham festival victories, including the Gold Cup, and a hat-trick of Grand Nationals at Aintree.
His ultimate ambition to be crowned champion trainer has yet to be realised although bitter experience has taught him perspective on his inability to dethrone Mullins.
“If you’d asked me that (title ambitions) two or three years ago it’s all I thought about. If you ask me my ambition in life, it is to be champion trainer,” Elliott said. “But I probably look at life a little bit different now than I did before that happened.”
‘That’ is the six-month suspension of his license in 2021 amid widespread public opprobrium following an infamous image of him sitting on the carcass of a horse that had fatally collapsed on the gallops.
[ Gordon Elliott faces uphill battle in trainers’ championship despite purple patch ]
Despite his stellar list of race wins, bouncing back so successfully from that reverse, and making that rehabilitation seem almost inevitable, might count as Elliott’s most remarkable achievement.
Such a shattering experience brought a change of outlook and took a toll on a personality that friends insist contains a lot more depth than a rather blunt public image might suggest. He himself said on Monday: “You look at things a lot different, you look at people a lot different.”
What still motivates him however is simple – winners. He’s closing in on two and a half thousand, a stunning mark considering he started training in 2006 after an unremarkable career as an amateur jockey.
“I’m probably unfortunate to be born in the same era as a man called Willie Mullins,” he said, appearing anything but hapless looking out at a state-of-the-art training complex built from nothing near Longwood, Co Meath. “Willie makes us all better and hungrier and I just try to do my best.”
Maybe it’s no coincidence the one threatening to turn Irish jump racing top-three into a top-four is Elliott’s former farrier, Gavin Cromwell, or that he came closest to confounding Troytown expectations with the runner up.
Familiarity with someone whose career is testament to overcoming obstacles doesn’t encourage reaching for excuses.