Last March must have been a bleak time for Gordon Elliott. After the circulation of a photograph which showed him sat atop a dead horse at his stables, the esteemed trainer was slapped with a ban preventing him from taking part at the Cheltenham Festival. To make matters worse, many of his horses’ owners elected to send their prized animals to other trainers so that they would still get a chance to succeed at Cheltenham.
A year on, it’s fair to say that Elliott still has work to do to restore his pride and rebuild his reputation. He has enjoyed some solid success since returning to the fold, and with the 2022 Cheltenham Festival looming large on the horizon, there is an opportunity ahead to re-assert his stature in the sport, and cast away the lingering doubts that surround him.
Indeed, it could be said that one horse in particular has the potential to make or break Elliott at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. There will doubtless be victories for the Irishman across the four days — after all, he recorded an impressive six winners at the 2020 Festival — but one horse and one race in particular could provide Elliott with the kind of glorious moment he needs to catapult himself back into the big time.
We’re talking about Galvin, of course. The seven-year-old has been destined for greatness for a long time, but now seems to be the time for him to step up and be counted on the biggest stage. His victory in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown was the catalyst for this ascension to horse racing’s top table, beating Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite A Plus Tard by a shorthead to claim a famous victory that had Elliott feeling the emotion of the occasion.
“I had a tear in my eye after the race, I’m not afraid to say it,” the trainer said. “We’ve had a rough year and it’s brilliant for the horse to do this. We started out having a bit of fun around Perth with him and he hasn’t let us down the whole way. That’s 12 races he’s won now, he’s the horse of a lifetime. He stays like hell and he’ll go straight to the Gold Cup now.”
He’s still the second favourite for the Cheltenham showpiece, as A Plus Tard’s stature and reputation make him a firm pick for many horse racing enthusiasts. However, Galvin’s showing in the Savills Chase, along with his steady form over the past couple of years, mean that many are fancying him to get the job done when push comes to shove on day four of the Prestbury Park meeting.
For Elliott and his connections, the Gold Cup represents the ultimate prize. The Irishman won it back in 2016 with Don Cossack, and whilst that was a momentous achievement, the emotion surrounding a Gold Cup triumph this year would probably trump it.
In terms of Elliott’s legacy and reputation, there is not much more he can do than win the sport’s biggest races. For many, his standing in horse racing will always be tarnished by those appalling images that did the rounds this time last year, but it’s important that the trainer puts in the effort to show others that he has learned from his mistakes. Winning a race of the Gold Cup’s stature is a strong indication that this is a trainer and a yard where horses are treated with the utmost care and responsibility.
Galvin is Elliott’s golden ticket back to the big time. If the seven-year-old thunders up that home straight on Gold Cup Day and delivers the biggest prize for the Irishman, you’d expect him to be even more emotional than he was after the Savills Chase. Victories in the blue riband races are what every trainer chases, but when you’ve been through as turbulent a time as Elliott has, it tastes even sweeter.
“I really think this lad will go close in the Gold Cup,” Elliott said of Galvin’s chances recently, with an air of confidence marinading his words. He’s won the National Hunt Chase, so we know he acts well around Cheltenham, and he settles, jumps and stays like hell. If he comes down the hill within firing distance he’ll come up it stronger than anything.”
If Galvin does end up claiming the top prize, then Elliott’s redemption arc will be as close to complete as it can possibly get after his misdemeanours of the past.