Trainer Gordon Elliott excited by strong Cheltenham team
Gordon Elliott is planning to send a team of around 30 horses for the Cheltenham Festival as he bids to improve on last year's tally.
Don Cossack's victory in the Timico Gold Cup was the highlight of three winners for the ounty Meath handler and though his star chaser has been retired through injury, Elliott goes to Gloucestershire with high hopes.
"I'd say we'll send about 30 horses across. They've just had a canter this morning, a few will work tomorrow and a few will work in Leopardstown on Sunday," he said. "We won't do much more after that, only keep them ticking over.
"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."
Headlining the Elliott squad is the exciting Death Duty, whose target is the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, with the trainer ruling out any possibility of going for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle over a shorter distance instead.
"He's running in the Albert Bartlett. I'd say he'd be quick enough for the Neptune, I just think the Albert Bartlett is made for him," he said.
"If he wins it'll be great. He's a three-mile chaser in the making. On form, he's a better horse than Don Cossack was over hurdles, him and No More Heroes, but he's still got to do it when he goes chasing."
As revealed at the weekend, Elliott confirmed Tombstone, the recent conqueror of former two-mile king Jezki, was in line to be added to the field for the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
"He's not supplemented yet, but if everything goes all right and he works all right at the weekend, the plan is we'll probably run him in the Champion Hurdle," he said. "It's a very good race, but it's probably an open enough race.
"We've never had a runner in the Champion Hurdle, so I don't know what it takes to win one, but why not have a go?
"He's in good nick."
Hatton's Grace winner Apple's Jade holds an entry in the Champion Hurdle, but is set to head for the OLBG Mares' Hurdle when she could renew rivalry with Limini, who beat her at Punchestown last week.
"She got beaten by a better horse on the day - there were absolutely no excuses," said Elliott.
"You'd be hoping a bit better ground and a faster gallop would suit Apple's Jade. Doing the donkey work I don't think suits her and she ran a bit fresh, but Limini was definitely the best horse on the day.
"I'd be delighted if Limini goes for the Champion Hurdle, but if she's there we'll take her on.
"If you worry about one horse you wouldn't run them."
Elliott is looking to be double-handed in this year's Gold Cup with Outlander and Don Poli, who were first and second in that order in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December.
"Don Poli's had enough chances to win the Gold Cup, but he's definitely in good form and his last two runs have been good," he said.
"Outlander is probably unexposed. It will be his first time at the trip, but the way he'll be ridden will suit him as we'll take our time.
"I'd say the horses that ran in Down Royal (in November) after coming out of Willie's (Mullins), I hadn't given them enough work. They all improved from the run.
"To be honest, none of them are Don Cossack - there's no point saying it - he won a Gold Cup last year by seven or eight lengths.
"I'm not stupid enough to think I can have one the following year.
"For me there's not a lot between any of the Irish horses. Of them all I think Outlander and Djakadam could be the two as they're going there fresh."
Gigginstown House Stud supremo Michael O'Leary sponsors the Ryanair Chase and while he has yet to win the race, there appears reason to hope that could change courtesy of Empire Of Dirt.
The 10-year-old was successful at the big meeting 12 months ago when in the care of Colm Murphy, winning the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, and was last seen running Sizing John to three-quarters of a length in the Irish Gold Cup.
Elliott said: "Unless something happens to Outlander or Don Poli, he'll go for the Ryanair.
"That's the plan and he looks like he has a chance."