Home to so many of jump racing’s superstars, Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra yard was the fitting venue for the launch of the 2019/2020 National Hunt season in County Meath on Thursday morning.
Ahead of one of the biggest days of the year at Navan on Sunday, the course’s Ladbrokes Troytown Chase Day on November 24th and the Bar One Winter Racing Festival at Fairyhouse on November 30th and December 1st were also very much on the mind of the season’s leading trainer.
The Grade 2 TheTote.com Fortria Chase and the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle share top billing at Navan on Sunday where Elliott’s star mare Apple’s Jade will bid for a third straight win in the latter before heading to Fairyhouse early next month for the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, a race that she has captured for the past three seasons. In all, she is a 10-time Grade 1 winner.
Elliott is currently three-handed in the Grade 2 TheTote.com Fortria Chase with Hardline, Duca De Thaix and Doctor Phoenix all holding entries for a race he won with Clarcam in 2017. Subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner Labaik and Mengli Khan have given Elliott wins in the For Auction Novice Hurdle and he looks set to rely on the impressive Gowran Park maiden hurdle scorer Abacadabras in this year’s renewal of Sunday’s Grade 3 event.
Ladbrokes Troytown Chase Day is close to Elliott’s heart, he trained six of the seven winners on the day in 2016, including Empire Of Dirt, who along with Balbriggan (2014), Riverside City (2015) and Mala Beach two years ago have all won the prestigious handicap chase for the 41-year-old.
Responsible for 12 of the 37 entries, Elliott’s team is headed by Borice, winner of TheTote.com Galway Plate and the narrow Guinness Kerry National runner-up Ravenhill. Weights for the Ladbrokes Troytown Handicap Chase will be released on Monday at 2pm.
Elliott said: “We’ll support Navan throughout the season and we have a good few to run in the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase. The Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles in the middle of December is a race that we tend to target some of our best staying novice hurdlers at and that will be the case again this year.”
Gordon famously became the first trainer to capture all three Grade 1s on the card at the Winter Festival at Fairyhouse in 2017. History was made as he won the BARONERACING.COM Royal Bond Novice Hurdle with Mengli Khan, the BARONERACING.COM Hatton’s Grace Hurdle with Apple’s Jade and the BARONERACING.COM Drinmore Novice Chase with Death Duty.
He won two of the three races again last year, with Apple’s Jade landing the Grade 1 BARONERACING.COM Hatton’s Grace Hurdle for the third straight year and she remains on target for fourth crack at the race. Elliott has also entered the recent Down Royal runner-up Coko Beach which would be stepping up in distance and the Wexford mares’ hurdle winner, Surin.
Gordon continued: “Apple’s Jade will run in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan on Sunday. She’s in good form and Navan is the ideal place for her to start off the season. It’s a great track and she has won this race for the last two years and while she is not getting any younger, she has been working well and that is the plan for her. After Navan, she’ll be back to Fairyhouse for the BARONERACING.COM Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.”
Mengli Khan is Gordon’s only previous winner of the Grade 1 BARONERACING.COM Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and he is responsible for seven of the 40 entries for next month’s renewal. The unbeaten Envoi Allen features after last weekend’s maiden hurdle win at Down Royal and also among the Cullentra entries are Abacadabras and the promising bumper winner, Andy Dufresne.
“Envoi Allen was very good when he won over hurdles at the weekend at Down Royal. He has come out of that race well and we are looking at the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse for him.”
The BARONERACING.COM Drinmore Novice Chase has been good to Gordon over the years. Jessies Dream gave him his first Grade 1 success in the race in 2010 and he has won it five times in all, including with Death Duty and Delta Work in the last two years. He has made nine entries this time, a formidable team that is headed by Samcro, Battleoverdoyen and Champagne Classic.
“I was delighted with Samcro when he won over fences at Down Royal at the weekend and Keith Donoghue was very impressed with him. The BARONERACING.COM Drinmore Novice Chase looks the obvious race to go for with him now and of course the likes of Battleoverdoyen and Champagne Classic are very much in the mix as well. That day at Fairyhouse is one we always look forward to.”
Navan Racecourse Manager, Peter Killeen, said: “It’s that time of year again when the team at Navan are gearing up for what is our busiest period and with the quality of the entries for our Fortria Chase Day next Sunday, we are certainly getting off to a flying start. The reappearance of the top horses such as Apple’s Jade and Douvan would certainly have our turnstiles clicking.
“The Fortria is quickly followed by our flagship Ladbrokes Troytown Day on November 24 and that leads into our two December fixtures on the 7th and 15th. It’s appropriate that we are here in Gordon’s for our launch as he is closing in on a century of National Hunt winners at Navan which I’m sure we won’t have to hold our breath too long for.”
Peter Roe, Manager of Fairyhouse Racecourse, said: “We have a huge season ahead of us at Fairyhouse as we celebrate the 150th running of BoyleSports Irish Grand National next April. Of course, the first big meeting of the season is our Winter Festival and we are delighted with the strength in depth of the entries for our three Bar One Racing-sponsored Grade 1 races on Sunday, December 1st.
“This meeting is widely accepted as being the highlight of the pre-Christmas action when many of the stars put their reputation on the line. The fixture has developed due to the support of Barney O’Hare and Bar One Racing and this year we could possibly have the best fixture in memory as Apple’s Jade bids for a historic four-in-a-row in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.”