Conflated© Photo Healy Racing
Gordon Elliott is confident Conflated is “in the mix” for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup after deciding against bidding for back-to-back victories in Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last weekend.
The nine-year-old was a surprise winner of the Dublin Racing Festival feature 12 months ago, but proved that was no fluke by running well before falling in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham before pushing Clan Des Obeaux close in the Aintree Bowl.
Following a promising comeback run at Down Royal in the autumn, Conflated dominated Leopardstown’s Savills Chase over the Christmas period, but Elliott elected to keep his powder dry for the blue riband in the Cotswolds next month.
Speaking at a press event at his Co Meath yard on Tuesday morning, the Cullentra handler admitted he was heartened to see Fury Road — third behind Conflated over the festive period — finish a similar distance behind Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs when third again on Saturday.
“We decided not to run him in the Irish Gold Cup and he’ll go to Cheltenham fresh and well,” he said.
“I suppose the fact that Fury Road led over the last the other day would give me hope that Conflated could run a good race in Cheltenham.
“I probably ran him in the wrong race last year going for the Ryanair. The way he ran in Aintree last season and the way he ran in Leopardstown the last day, I think the Gold Cup will suit him.”
The Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs strengthened his position at the head of the Gold Cup market with an eight-length verdict at Leopardstown — and while not everyone was blown away by the performance, Elliott expects him to prove a tough nut to crack.
He added: “Galopin Des Champs sets the standard and he’s the horse we all have to beat, but I think we’re in the mix.
“When you look at the re-run, I thought Galopin Des Champs was probably more impressive than when you watched it the first time. Paul (Townend) had him asleep and it probably took him a bit to wake him up, but he galloped from the last to the line well.
“I just worry about my own horse, but I wouldn’t mind having him!”
Conflated will be part of another formidable team Elliott is preparing to send to Prestbury Park in less than five weeks’ time, with his novice chasing squad particularly strong.
He houses the ante-post favourite for the three-mile Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in Saturday’s Scilly Isles victor Gerri Colombe, while Mighty Potter is cramped odds for the Turners’ Novices’ Chase after bagging his fourth Grade One win at Leopardstown on Sunday.
“Over two and a half miles softer ground would suit Gerri Colombe, but he’s not a mud lark and is not as slow as you’d think — he’s just so relaxed,” said Elliott.
“I’d say over three miles plus in the Brown Advisory he’ll be fine on better ground and I think the further he goes the better he’ll be.
“He’s a very unassuming horse who doesn’t do anything exciting at home, but he knows how to win.
“He’s so relaxed and I think the Brown Advisory is made for him.
“Mighty Potter is probably relaxing more with racing. He jumped great the other day and it was only when you watch the re-run of the race that you realise how good he was,” said Elliott.
“He’s an unassuming type of horse and it wouldn’t worry me to come back to two miles, but at the moment we’re going for the middle-distance race.
“Envoi Allen was the real thing and there was Samcro and Don Cossack. We’ve had a few nice novice chasers, but I’d say he could be bang up there.”
Teahupoo is a major hope for the Elliott team in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle after inflicting a first career defeat on Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse before successfully stepping up to three miles in the Galmoy at Gowran.
The six-year-old was bitterly disappointing when quietly fancied for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, but Elliott is putting that performance down to the trip rather than the track.
He added: “I’d say he just got took off his feet over two miles last year. He’s not a big, heavy horse and I don’t see why over three miles he shouldn’t be OK.
“It’s not going to be quick ground and if you listen to likes of Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh over the years talking about Stayers’ Hurdle horses, they always say they have to race behind the bridle and be relaxed and that is exactly what Teahupoo is — nothing fazes him.”
While Conflated, Gerri Colombe, Mighty Potter and Teahupoo will all head to Cheltenham with solid claims, Elliott appears particularly confident about the chances of Delta Work, who is all set to defend his crown in the Glenfarclas Chase over the cross-country course.
The multiple Grade One winner played the role of pantomime villain last year when denying his dual Grand National and five-time Festival-winning stablemate Tiger Roll, but he will return 12 months on as a red-hot favourite after finishing third under a big weight at the track last month.
“I won the race so I didn’t mind, but it would have been the perfect send-off for Tiger Roll to have won last year obviously. It wasn’t to be, but he got a great reception,” said Elliott.
“I was very happy with Delta Work’s run the other day. He was giving the winner and the second a lot of weight and off level weights, it looks like he’s thrown in.”
While Elliott is still finalising running plans for some members of a squad, a few of the pieces are beginning to fall into place.
He added: “Three Card Brag will probably go for the Albert Bartlett along with Favori De Champdou. Cool Survivor ran well the other day and he’ll probably go for the Martin Pipe or he could go for the Albert Bartlett as well.
“Absolute Notions might not be badly handicapped and he can probably go for a handicap more so than a Grade One.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t run American Mike in Leopardstown the other day. He scoped bad after Navan and there was something wrong with him, so we’ve missed a good part of the season.
“I was looking forward to running him the other day, but couldn’t due to personal reasons and it’s hard to find a race for him now.
“He’s entered in a Listed race over two miles at Navan on Sunday, which isn’t ideal, but I kind of need to get a run into him because he can be a fresh horse and I just want to knock the freshness off him.
“Better Days Ahead will go straight to Cheltenham for the Champion Bumper. I’d say the bumper horses in Ireland just mightn’t be as strong as they have been, but my horse is a good horse.
“King Of Kingsfield will run in it as well and Pour Les Filles who won in Leopardstown under Harry Swan, we’ll probably run the three of them.”