Elliott team performing below par
As is often quoted, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Quite who first said that famous phrase is hotly disputed – the likes of Benjamin Disraeli and Mark Twain are among the front-runners – but what is not in dispute is that in many areas of life it rings as true today as it did when it was first uttered.
Stats rule in racing world
In the world of horse racing however, statistics certainly form an absolutely integral part of the sport and the inexact science of trying to find a winner. Course form, jockey form, ground conditions, winning previous distances, handicap marks, headgear, you name it. And one stat that is often as valuable as any in considering the relative merits of one horse against another is the current form of the stable from which the beast hails.
Mullins in fine form at present
There are two dominant training forces in the world of Irish jump racing. Multiple champion trainer Willie Mullins rules the roost but has been long pursued and pushed all the way by the powerful Gordon Elliott stable. Both yards have vast battalions of horses, many owned by leading players such as JP McManus, Susannah and Rich Ricci, the Gigginstown House Stud, and others.
Willie Mullins, who sent out Hedgehunter to win the 2005 Grand National at Aintree, has been champion trainer for each of the last 12 seasons and is currently operating at a fine winning strike-rate of an impressive 29%, pretty much average for the County Carlow-based legend.
Elliott team not firing on all cylinders
Gordon Elliott has a better Grand National record having first struck with 33/1 shot Silver Birch in 2007, and of course will seek a hattrick in the race with the remarkable Tiger Roll, winner of the £1million contest for each of the last two years. But a glance at Elliott’s most recent statistics reveals a very surprising and modest current strike-rate of just 8%, a long way below the form being enjoyed by Mullins.
This dip in the form of Elliott’s County Meath yard may well be just a blip. I wondered if, as is the case in many yards, his horses go through a quiet period at this time of year? A check on Elliott’s February strike-rate in recent seasons shows that last February he operated at a 16% win rate; the year before he was sending winners out at a rate of 19%; and in 2017 he was winning with one in five runners at a rate of 20%. So 8% is a bit of a concern.
Huge National entry of three-time race winner
With Elliott responsible for a remarkable 15 of the 87 horses still engaged in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree on April 4 – that’s just about one in six of all the entries – you would have to be just a touch anxious that something might be amiss at his Longwood stables. Of course, there are still more than four weeks to the great race and his yard may roar back to form in the interim, but with Cheltenham right around the corner and many of his possible Aintree horses set to have an outing at the Prestbury track, we may will see for ourselves just how well (or otherwise) the Elliott team is at present.
Tiger stands head and shoulders above rest of stablemates
5/1* favourite Tiger Roll is the undoubted star of the 42-year-old trainer’s fifteen possible runners. He stands on the verge of a truly historic success if he can defy top weight and become the first to win the race in three successive years. Not even the mighty Red Rum managed that!
But there are plenty of other contenders set to represent the burly Irishman, although most are currently priced at 50/1 and upwards. The two exceptions are 33/1* shot Alpha Des Obeaux, who ran a fine National trial when third behind Walk In The Mill in the Randox Health Becher Handicap Chase over the big spruce fences at the December meeting. He shaped well enough after a break when third at Fairyhouse a couple of weeks ago and has a touch of class.
Another talented contender is 40/1* shot The Storyteller, a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2018 and also a Grade 1 novice chase winner that term. He was an eye-catching sixth of 25 in a staying handicap hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting but hasn’t been seen since.
Useful Elliott contenders at big odds
With other possible runners including Galway Plate hero Borice (50/1*), last-gasp Paddy Power Chase winner Roaring Bull (66/1*), Kerry National runner-up Ravenhill (66/1*), and the enigmatic Dounikos (66/1*), well fancied for last year’s Grand National but who pulled up after being hampered four from home, Elliott could have plenty of darts to fire at this season’s renewal.
Stable form will be well worth noting though, and while it’s far too early to sound any note of panic it will be very interesting to see if Elliott’s luck turns at Cheltenham next week, or any time soon after that.
*Odds subject to change.