Cheltenham Festival: Gordon Elliott sending powerful squad to next month's showpiece event
The scale of the challenge from Ireland facing British jumps trainers as they try to keep the valuable prizes on offer at March's Cheltenham Festival at home is starkly illustrated by studying Gordon Elliott's squad.
Elliott has entered no fewer than 80 individual horses in the races at national hunt racing's four-day showpiece event, with about fifty of them expected to line up.
Additionally, his arch rival Willie Mullins, the champion Irish trainer, will be fielding similar numbers, and a powerful travelling team is also being assembled by Henry de Bromhead.
Much of the talk surrounding the Elliott team revolves around four-time Festival winner Tiger Roll, which goes for a third success in the Cross Country Chase - staged over a course, on the in-field, of unconventional obstacles - before then seeking a historic Grand National hat-trick at Aintree.
Also, there's Irish Gold Cup winner Delta Work, owned like Tiger Roll by Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud operation and a leading contender for Cheltenham's Gold Cup, and the talented young hurdler Envoi Allen, winner of the 2019 Festival Bumper, and being aimed at the Ballymore Novices Hurdle.
Elliott, looking for a second win in the Gold Cup after another Gigginstown horse, Don Cossack, in 2016, said: "I think Delta Work is made for the race and the softer it is [the going] the better - he's a bit of a forgotten horse.
"He's better with runs and I made a mistake last year [when third in the RSA Chase] of not running between Christmas and Cheltenham.
"He's not a massive, robust horse but he's a good one - he stays and jumps very well."
Tiger Roll showed 'his old zest' on return
There's been some debate about how Tiger Roll might get on in a Gold Cup, but Elliott insists the horse, already the winner of the Festival's Triumph Hurdle and National Hunt Chase as well as the two Cross Country races, would be well beaten.
"For me, if he ran in a Gold Cup I don't think he'd go out on the last circuit," he said, "he loves doing different things."
Of the Grand National treble, which would equal the record of 1970s star Red Rum, he added: "I was very, very happy with the way he ran at Navan [on his return] - he showed a lot of his old zest.
"The odds are against us with four and a quarter miles, X number of fences and X number of horses, but after Cheltenham we'll look forward to it."
So what would be a good Festival week?
"Getting a winner," he said with a grin, knowing that with the firepower at his disposal that's no longer the case.
"Growing up, the thought of one winner was unbelievable, but the way things have been going, if you didn't have two it would be disappointing I suppose."