With a little over three weeks to this year's Cheltenham Festival leading Irish trainer and Betfair Ambassador Gordon Elliott outlines his current plans for the majority of his intended runners...
"Entered in three races; the Supreme Novice Hurdle, the Ballymore Novices Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle Samcro has plenty of options but at present the Ballymore is his target."
Mitchouka - 4-Y-O
He is a grand honest horse who has been doing everything right this season, the improving sort was back to winning ways at Fairyhouse last month, justifying his favouritism to finish 8L ahead of stablemate Veneer Of Charm in fine fashion. He has entries in both the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the JCB Triumph Hurdle and will be entered in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle, entries for which close today (Monday) in Ireland but my preference if he runs would be the Fred Winter.
Farclas - 4-Y-O
Farclas is a horse that has impressed me since joining the team, the son of Jukebox Jury has run two very promising races for me now, the most recent of which was a narrow defeat in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown earlier this month finishing just 1.25L behind the Willie Mullins trained Mr Ajudicator and more than 21L ahead of the up until then unbeaten Espoir D'allen who put pay to his chances by running too keenly early on. He is only a shell of a horse at the moment and anything he does this year is a bonus. Of his entries in the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the JCB Triumph Hurdle I'd be leaning more towards the JCB at this stage.
Samcro - 6-Y-O
Now unbeaten in six starts under rules Samcro heads to the Festival with an aura of excitement about him. His latest appearance at the Dublin Racing Festival dropping back to 2m was his first Grade 1 and yet again he did it very well, he is such a pleasure to train he just gets on with it and does what he has to do - nothing fazes him. He has lots of options going forward but he was bought to be a 3m Chaser and has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. Entered in three races; the Supreme Novice Hurdle, the Ballymore Novices Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle he has plenty of options but at present the Ballymore is his target.
Mengli Khan - 5-Y-O
Is a horse I had been slightly disappointed by early on in his career for us but he is a huge big horse who was always going to improve for time and he has made up for it since. He ran well to finish second behind the very classy Getabird at Punchestown on testing ground, prior to that he had a disastrous run at Leopardstown in the Future Champions Grade 1 Novice Hurdle when he ran out two from home but drawing a line through that I think he's a good horse, his Royal Bond run was impressive and I would be confident that we'll see more from him on better ground. He will go for the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Hardline - 6-Y-O
He ran a fantastic race at Punchestown on very heavy ground earlier this month taking home a Listed Hurdle after stepping down from Grade 1 company, he is yet to win a race at Graded level but he has improved a lot and represents himself well. He finished third behind stablemate Mengli Khan in the Royal Bond and he is a horse we like who is going to continue to head in the right direction. We haven't made up our minds with him for the Festival just yet.
Apples Jade - 6-Y-O
Emphatic in her three from three this season she handled the step up in trip at Leopardstown in December holding on gamely ahead of Irish Champion Hurdle winner Supasundae, she absolutely loves a battle and she is one of the most tenacious horses I train. With nine wins to her name, seven of which are Grade 1's she doesn't need any introductions or explanations, the winner of the OLGB Mares Hurdle at the Festival last year in which she holds an entry for again this year as well as the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers Hurdle. At the moment the Mares race would be the preference.
Mick Jazz - 7-Y-O
We saw a career best from Mick Jazz on his penultimate start in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown after an out of sorts Faugheen pulled up before the second last leaving himself and Cilaos Emery to fight it out with our lad coming home the winner, he was due his day and ran a blinder - I was over the moon for his owner George Mahoney. I was very confident of a big run from him at last years Festival but he was lame on the morning of the race which was hugely disappointing at the time. His aim is the Champion Hurdle.
Barra - 7-Y-O
Ran a blinder at last year's Festival in the Trull House Mares Novices Hurdle, finishing second to favourite Let's Dance. She has had some decent runs since that but hasn't managed to quite build on that run since but we know she loves Cheltenham so I hope we will see her spark ignite once more, she is in the OLBG Mares Hurdle but will also get additional entries tomorrow. We'll see how she runs - if she runs, in the Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown next week before deciding which of those engagements she will fulfil.
Fagan - 8-Y-O
Has to be one of my most consistent horses who is rarely out of the first two, he of course ran very well in 2016's Albert Bartlett finishing second behind three-time Grade 1 winner Unowhatimeanharry. His latest effort at Cheltenham in October was another second place, this time behind Black Corton who has been in rude health since. He holds two Festival entries; in the RSA Chase and the National Hunt Chase, our preference for him would be for the latter.
Shattered Love - 7-Y-O
Is a huge big mare who is only just starting to come into herself, she is on fire since progressing to fences with four from five races won, the latest of which was a Grade 1 contest at Leopardstown. She is an honest horse who jumps and stays but she also has a nice turn of foot, her sole Cheltenham appearance last year in the Neptune was I think just a bit too much too soon for her, she is a giant who is different horse now this term and from her three entries at Cheltenham; in the National Hunt Chase, the RSA Chase and the JLT Novice Chase we have plenty to choose from but after her Leopardstown win the RSA looks ideal.
Dounikos - 7-Y-O
Has had a great season, taking home his first Grade 2 at Limerick ahead of stablemate Tombstone and running an absolute blinder last time out in the Grade 1 Flogas Chase finishing fourth but less than two lengths behind winner Monalee. He's a grand big improving horse and with three Festival entries in the National Hunt Chase, the RSA Chase and the JLT Novice Chase we might just take our time in making a decision for him at the moment.
Jury Duty - 7-Y-O
Has always been a great horse to have but he's stepped his game up a gear this season and I have been very happy with him, his Grade 2 Florida Pearl win at Punchestown ahead of Shattered Love was impressive, he gives it all he has in the final stages of a race and always battles it out well. He ran a blinder in the Pertemps last year behind Presenting Percy and with the improvement he has shown since I'm looking forward to seeing more from him. Another with plenty to choose from with his three entries; the National Hunt Amateur Chase, the RSA Chase and the JLT Novice Chase - all being well he will go for the Amateur race.
Sutton Manor - 7-Y-O
Was totally out of sorts at Leopardstown early this month with a performance I hope we can draw a line through. His run in last year's Pertemps was pleasing but he is a different horse this season and heads to the Festival stronger. From his entries; in the National Hunt Chase, the RSA Chase and the JLT Novices Chase and may also get an entry in the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase but we'll make a decision for him closer to the time.
Flawless Escape - 5-Y-O
Is a massive big horse who is still quite raw, he has been impressive to date and I think we are going to see better from him as he progresses throughout the year and he will be a better horse again with another summer's grass. Third most recently behind Grade 3 winner Total Recall at Leopardstown he came out of the race very well. He is in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle, the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle and will also get an entry in the Martin Pipe Conditionals Handicap Hurdle for which I think he will be best suited.
Dortmund Park - 5-Y-O
Another of our Ballymore Novices Hurdle and Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle entries Dortmund Park joined us from France with two from two to his name, he settled in with us well but was a little lacklustre on his yard debut at Navan in December. He has since redeemed himself with another two wins to his tally, one a 16L victory and a very pleasing run in the Grade 1 at Leopardstown earlier this month finishing fourth, 6L behind winner Tower Bridge. Right now we are undecided as to which he will go for if he runs, we'll see how things go at home in the coming weeks.
Delta Work - 5-Y-O
Has been representing himself very well this term in Graded contests but just hasn't managed to get his head in front since his Punchestown Hurdle win in May of last year. He is more than due his day and he is a nice horse who I think will be well suited to Cheltenham. He is entered at Clonmel, Punchestown and Thurles next week so if he runs we will see how things go before making a decision about which of his entries he goes for.
Cracking Smart - 6-Y-O
A very nice individual who has unfortunately hit the crossbar on his last two starts now behind Next Destination after three consecutive wins, one of which was a listed contest. Another with dual Ballymore Novices Hurdle and Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle entries he will go for the latter all being well.
The Storyteller - 7-Y-O
Kicked things off nicely this season winning his debut chase run at Fairyhouse ahead of stablemate Sutton Manor, his owners love to go to Cheltenham so that's been his target all year really. He jumps, he gallops and always gives a decent account of himself. Between the two entries he holds in the RSA Chase and the JLT Novices Chase at the moment no decisions have been made, I will have a chat with Mr and Mrs Sloan and we'll go from there.
De Plotting Shed - 8-Y-O
Is a very genuine and consistent horse who always runs to his merits, he is currently entered in the RSA Chase and the JLT Novices Chase. The Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase which closes tomorrow is another option - that would be the main race I'd have in mind for him at the moment. I think if he heads to the Festival in optimum shape we could see a career best from him.
A Toi Phil - 8-Y-O
Four time Grade 2 winner A Toi Phil is a mighty servant to the yard and connections, the Kinloch Brae winner is a great horse who won't let you down in his own Grade. He ran ok at Gowran Park on Saturday, we always thought Our Duke and Presenting Percy had the race wrapped up but our lad wasn't disgraced, finishing behind the pair and multiple Graded winner Ballycasey. Seventh in the 2016 running of the Neptune this will be his first trip to Cheltenham since. We will see how he comes out of Saturday's race in the coming days as to whether he will run but if so he goes for the Ryanair Chase.
The Game Changer - 9-Y-O
Although obviously he has plenty of ability he is very inconsistent, on his best days he is very good but on a bad day he can be terrible! His run in the Johnny Henderson last year was poor and he has had some questionable runs lately but his last win at Listowel on heavy ground back in September showed that spark is still there and he battled gamely to hold on from a strong challenging Ballycasey. If he runs he goes for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Tiger Roll - 8-Y-O
What a wonderful horse he is, a dual Cheltenham Festival winner who has also won at the October meeting - he clearly loves the track! He goes for the Glenfarclas - I think it has his name all over it, he went schooling over the cross country course at Cheltenham last week and went very well, all being well he will take his chance and we would be expecting another big run from him.
Cause Of Causes - 10-Y-0
One of the yard favourites he's won at the last three Cheltenham Festivals and is an absolute star, we love him to bits. His run in last year's Grand National was brilliant, he is of course entered again this year but for the Festival the Cross Country is his aim, he went with Tiger Roll schooling to Cheltenham last week and went as well as ever.
Pete So High - 4-Y-O
Just about handles conditions at Thurles to win a Maiden Hurdle on his third start for the yard, it wasn't the strongest race in the world but he followed it up with another decent run, this time finishing second to Mastermind at Naas on very heavy ground. His target all being well is the Fred Winter for which entries close today.
Outlander - 10-Y-O
Holds two entries; in the Ryanair Chase and the Timico Gold Cup but obviously he has been aimed at the Gold Cup since running in it last year when he finished 10th behind Sizing John in a race that didn't pan out as we had hoped. He has since won the Champion Chase at Down Royal and finished second beaten a neck by Edwulf in the Irish Gold Cup. I would love to see him redeem himself at this year's Festival, he's a great horse who deserves another big race win and there is plenty more left in him.
Duca De Thaix - 5-Y-O
Performed below par at Naas last month in the Limestone Lad Grade 3, I was very happy with him up until then and although it wasn't a terrible run we had expected a little better on the day. Forge Meadow who finished second that day 12L ahead of our lad came out and won the Grade 3 Hurdle at Gowran on Saturday. He will get an entry in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle, entries for which close today in Ireland.