Racing news and tips: Gordon Elliott’s Navan spree piles pressure on Willie Mullins

Greg Wood
Gordon Elliott greets Davy Russell as the jockey unsaddles Chirico Vallis in Navan’s winner’s enclosure. Photograph: racingfotos/Rex/Shutterstock

Gordon Elliott continued the exceptional form which made him the top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival last week when he saddled five of the seven winners at Navan on Sunday afternoon.

Elliott was responsible for a treble on Tuesday’s opening card at Cheltenham, a double the following day and a single winner on Friday, equalling the six-winner total of Willie Mullins but beating his sole rival for the Irish trainers’ title on a countback of placed horses.

His five winners at Navan, at combined odds of 189-1, included victory in the Grade Two Webster Cup Chase with the 6-5 favourite A Toi Phil, one of a number of horses to join his yard last autumn after a split between Mullins and Michael O’Leary, the seven-year-old’s owner.

Elliott’s other winners on the card were Monbeg Notorious (100-30), Chirico Vallis (4-7), Sanibel Island (4-1) and Minellafordollars (6-4). Denis O’Regan and Davy Russell completed doubles for the trainer, while Ruby Walsh took over aboard A Toi Phil in place of Bryan Cooper, who is still recovering from bruising sustained when he was unseated from Death Duty in Cheltenham’s Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle on Friday.

“It’s a great day again and I wish we had racing at Navan every week,” Elliott, who saddled a six-timer at the same course four months ago, said. “I was worried about how he [A Toi Phil] would handle the real heavy ground but he was good. He’s probably better in Grade Twos or Grade Threes rather than a Grade One.”

Chirico Vallis, the winner of a maiden hurdle, was Elliott’s 200th winner of the season in Britain and Ireland combined and he also saddled a winner on the Sunday card at Limerick to extend further his lead over Mullins in the Irish trainers’ championship.

Mullins has been Ireland’s champion trainer for the last nine years, and 11 times in all but he trails Elliott by €350,000 (£303,000) before the Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse over Easter and the five-day Punchestown Festival which concludes the Irish campaign at the end of April.

Elliott hit the ground running at the Galway Festival last summer and has maintained his lead in the title race ever since. Mullins, even after losing a significant number of horses following his fallout with O’Leary, has sent out a steady stream of winners in Ireland’s major Group One events but Elliott has hit back with several successes in valuable handicaps such as the Galway Plate and Kerry National to go with Grade One winners including Outlander, who took the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December.

Elliott is now a 1-4 chance to take the title for the first time, with Mullins available at 5-2, and the Irish Grand National could well decide the contest a fortnight before Punchestown. The race is now the richest in the Irish season, with a prize fund of €500,000, and the third richest in Britain and Ireland combined. Elliott was responsible for no fewer than 28 of the 124 entries for the race, and 12 of the first 30 in the weights.

Sizing John, the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, returned home to parade in front of crowds in the village of Moone, Co Kildare, on Sunday evening.

Sizing John gave Jessica Harrington her first victory in the Gold Cup with her first runner in the race, while the trainer also saddled two more winners at the meeting – Supasundae in the Coral Cup and Rock The World in the concluding Grand Annual Chase – to move her to 11 in her career. Harrington is now the most successful female trainer in Festival history.

“It was an amazing week, full stop,” Kate Harrington, the trainer’s daughter, said on Sunday. “The horses came back Friday night and they are all in good form. There is not a bother on them and we couldn’t be happier.”

Today’s selections, by Greg Wood

Kempton

2.00 Moayadd 2.30 Betsalottie 3.00 Tidal’s Baby (nb) 3.30 Double Spin 4.00 Ashwaq 4.30 The Warrior 5.00 Light Of Air 5.30 Athassel (nap)

Southwell

2.10 Unzing 2.40 Mister Grez 3.10 Bobo Mac 3.40 Camron De Chaillac 4.10 Dothraki Raider 4.40 Witham

Taunton

2.20 Bags Groove 2.50 High Secret 3.20 A Little Magic 3.50 Hint Of Mint 4.20 Bajardo 4.50 Milord

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