One Betfair Ambassador hails the work of another as Kevin Blake discusses Gordon Elliott's relentless attention to detail in preparation for the upcoming Cheltenham Festival...
"Tiger Roll has won the last two cross country renewals at Cheltenham but Elliott has reportedly said that he will still be travelled over in the near future to school over the fences... "
Small details, big results. When asked to write a few lines on this theme relating to the Cheltenham Festival, the man that immediately sprung to mind on a number of fronts was Gordon Elliott.
We have become so familiar with Elliott's success at the highest level that perhaps not enough is made of his origin story and the speedy rise to the top of the sport. Elliott did not have any background in racing at all. Having pushed his way in the door of the game, he was a moderately successful jockey at best. Those are not typical first chapters of a story that leads to the top of the training profession, but relentless ambition and drive coupled with a clear talent for the multi-faceted challenge that being a racehorse trainer represents has seen him rise to just that.
That he got to the position to make the previously-dominant Willie Mullins pull out all the stops in the trainer's championship in 2016/17 just over a decade after saddling his first runner truly does represent one of the most remarkable rises in recent racing history.
It isn't unusual for talented trainers to burst on the scene, have a lot of winners with second-hand horses and get a lot of support based on it. What is more unusual, however, is for those trainers to successfully grow their businesses while maintaining all the systems and attention to detail that brought them that initial success.
Expansion brings a great amount of challenges with it, especially in this day and age where good staff are hard to get and keep, and upscaling has proven to be the undoing of many a talented trainer. Elliott has negotiated the pitfalls of his expansion in no uncertain terms.
Rigorous preparations give Tiger Roll Cross Country edge
There are many examples of Elliott's attention to detail being maintained despite the fast growth of his business. He has always been known as a wonderful placer of horses and in recent years he took on racing journalist Ryan McElligott to help him further improve this aspect of his business.
A particularly topical example of the lengths he goes to in order to give his horses every possible advantage relates to how he has prepared his horses for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in recent years.
Given the uniqueness of the challenge of the cross country race at Cheltenham - for which Tiger Roll (pictured above) is the ante-post favourite - trainers putting the effort in to prepare their horses as best as possible for it isn't a new concept. Enda Bolger dominated the discipline for many years as he effectively has his own private cross-country course that allowed him to school his horses over those sorts of obstacles much more than other trainers.
As time went on, other trainers began putting more emphasis on getting more cross country schooling into their horses prior to the race, with Irish trainers making use of the banks at Punchestown for example.
No stone left unturned in pursuit of glory
It was Elliott who took this level of preparation to the next level with Cause Of Causes back in 2017. With the horse having looked thoroughly unsuited by the cross country course at Cheltenham in his first start over it the previous January, Elliott sent him back to Cheltenham during the sales there and schooled him over the course to help better familiarise him with it.
This was something that not even trainers who are based near Cheltenham had done previously, never mind one based on the other side of the Irish Sea. That thoroughness was rewarded at the Cheltenham Festival as Cause Of Causes was much more assured over the unique obstacles and duly got the job done.
This pre-Festival trip to school his cross country horses over the same obstacles they will tackle in March has now become a routine for Elliott. Tiger Roll has won the last two renewals of it and despite that experience over the obstacles and his celebrity status, Elliott has reportedly said that he will still be travelled over in the near future to school over the cross-country fences. Even with a horse that has been there and done it multiple times, Elliott leaves no stone unturned.
Small details, big results.