Less than a decade after taking out his training licence, Gordon Elliott is now firmly established as one of National Hunt racing’s dominant forces.
The son of a mechanic, Elliott had no involvement with horses until he became an amateur jockey as a teenager, initially working for Tony Martin on weekends before going full-time after leaving school.
He enjoyed a fine stint in the saddle, riding a total of 46 winners on the racecourse as well as numerous winners in the point-to-point sphere.
After training a handful of point-to-pointers as his riding career came to a close, Elliott switched roles for good in 2006 and it did not take him long to make a major impact, saddling Silver Birch to win the following year’s Grand National at Aintree – despite having not trained a winner in his homeland at the time.
The subsequent rise has been nothing short of meteoric, with his purchase of Cullentra House, in Longwood, County Meath, in 2011 helping him cement his place as one of the training elite.
“I bought the place four years ago,” said Elliott, who earlier this month saddled his 100th winner across Britain and Ireland.
“It’s a 78-acre farm and there were only a few sheds on the land when I bought it.
“We have been improving the facilities every year, and now have 136 stables. I’m planning to put in a swimming pool next summer.
“There is a six-furlong woodchip gallop and a four-furlong Wexford sand gallop and there is also another furlong-and-a-half ring gallop.
“The sand gallop is great to get them fit, but it can make horses slow if they stay on it all the time.
“The woodchip gallop helps to stretch them a bit but can also get them keen, so it’s good to have a mix of the two. It’s a good, central location. We can be at Leopardstown in 45 minutes, and it’s also good for the boats and the airport.”
Elliott credits Martin and legendary trainer Martin Pipe as two of the biggest influences on his career, riding numerous winners for Pipe during the 1997-98 campaign, including Iris Bleu at Cheltenham.
“I’ve got great staff and I’d say the majority of them have ridden a winner on the track,” said Elliott.
“They work hard and the horses are always turned out well at the races, which I like. It doesn’t make them go any faster, but it looks well and the owners appreciate it.
“I learned a lot from working for Tony Martin and Martin Pipe. Martin Pipe is a genius and has been a big influence on me. I learned to keep my ears open and my mouth shut.”
Elliott’s next task, formidable though it is, is to try to dethrone all-conquering champion trainer Willie Mullins. The master of Closutton has monopolised the Irish National Hunt scene in recent years and has become increasingly potent at the Cheltenham Festival, saddling a record eight winners last March.
Elliott is under no illusions about how difficult it will be to match, and surpass, the mighty Mullins, but has a burning desire to succeed. He said: “I make no secret of the fact that I’m ambitious. I would like to train 100 winners in Ireland this year and it would be great to beat Willie Mullins some day.
“Willie is an absolute gentleman and he sets the bar. In fact, the bar is getting higher and higher every day.”
If Elliott is to bridge the gap, he will need a few more horses like current stable star Don Cossack. The trainer was unable to hide his excitement after the imposing gelding won his third bumper at Fairyhouse in April 2012, telling reporters: “If I was a horse, I’d sleep with him, he’s that good.”
While he failed to reach the heights expected of him over hurdles, he has struck Grade One gold four times over fences and is primed for a Boxing Day clash with the Mullins-trained Vautour, among others, in a barnstorming renewal of the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
Elliott, however, already has one eye on the steeplechasing’s blue riband.
He said: “The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the ultimate plan. I got excited talking about him as a younger horse, and Michael O’Leary, the owner, gave me a bit of a telling-off. He won a Grade One as a novice but is the finished article now.”
Don Cossack may now be the finished article, but given he is still in his 30s, Elliott has plenty of time to raise his game even higher as he looks to mount a serious challenge to the Mullins machine’.