Continuing his series of profiles of the leading trainers in the UK and Ireland, Russell Smith casts his eye across the career of Grand National-winning Irishman Gordon Elliott...
"Gordon Elliott really announced himself as a Cheltenham Festival force in March 2011 with a magical double courtesy of Chicago Grey in the National Hunt Chase and Carlito Brigante in the Coral Cup."
Gordon Elliott was so keen to appear on the big stage of the Cheltenham Festival that he saddled his first runner as a trainer at the four-day extravaganza.
It was back in March 2006 that the Irish handler sent over Brandon Mountain from his Capranny Stables in Trim, County Meath to line up in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Although the 100-1 outsider failed to make an impact, it had whet Elliott's appetite for travelling horses across the Irish Sea.
A further raid three months later produced his first winner when Arresting triumphed at Perth in the hands of Richard Johnson, with the gelding scoring twice more that summer - at Newton Abbot and Perth again.
However, Elliott had experienced a fruitless autumn and winter when he sent Silver Birch over to the 2007 Festival for the Sporting Index Cross Country Chase. But with the former Paul Nicholls inmate finishing second to Heads Onthe Ground it fuelled Grand National dreams...
And they came true when the 33-1 shot held off Mckelvey by three-quarters of a length under Robbie Power, making Elliott - at the age of just 29 - the youngest trainer to land the Aintree marathon.
Incredibly, it was just his fourth career winner in only his second season, and it came while he had still to post a victory in his homeland. He broke his duck in Ireland three weeks later when Toran Road triumphed at Kilbeggan.
Now he is on the brink of his first century in a season on the Emerald Isle, while he is set to arrive at Cheltenham with Gold Cup second-favourite Don Cossack, winner of the Punchestown Gold Cup last April, and RSA Chase market leader No More Heroes.
His rise has been meteoric - especially as he doesn't come from a racing background. His father was a mechanic, but Elliott preferred horsepower and having learnt to ride on a pony, he started working for Tony Martin during holidays and weekends at the age of 13.
On leaving school it became a full-time job and he took out an amateur licence to ride at 16, partnering his first winner aboard Catriona's Choice in a Ballinrobe bumper in May 1995.
Elliott rode 46 winners, with his biggest success coming on King's Road in a Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown in April 1998 for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, while he posted five victories in the United States. He also gained experience with Liam Browne on the Curragh, the late Gordon Richards, and 15-time champion trainer Martin Pipe in England.
Having started his career with a bang thanks to Silver Birch, Elliott showed he was equally adept on the Flat by capturing Europe's richest handicap, the Ebor at York in August 2010, with Dirar.
His first Grade 1 triumph over jumps followed in the December when Jessies Dream won the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.
And he really announced himself as a Cheltenham Festival force in March 2011 with a magical double courtesy of Chicago Grey in the National Hunt Chase and Carlito Brigante in the Coral Cup.
That same year Elliott, now 37, bought his own farm at Cullentra House in Longwood, County Meath and has developed it into a leading training establishment. And with many of his runners carrying the colours of Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, his star is in the ascendancy.
Flaxen Flare (2013 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle), Tiger Roll (2014 JCB Triumph Hurdle) and Cause Of Causes (2015 National Hunt Chase) have joined his Festival roll of honour.
Now few would bet against him adding to his tally next month.