The furore over Gordon Elliott’s at best ill-judged and now notorious picture was perfectly timed to upset the applecart with the Cheltenham Festival now upon us. The Irish trainer was top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival 2018 and 2019, and with a stable of top horses under his wing, including Ballyadam and Envoi Allen, was preparing for another successful festival.
So when the controversy erupted over Elliott’s photo, markets began to panic. Envoi Allen, one of Elliott’s star horses of the eight owned by Cheveley Park Stud and the favourite in ante-post betting for the Marsh Novices’ Chase on day three of Cheltenham, rose in the betting stakes from 4/5 (1.8, -125) favourite to 6/5 (2.2, +120) as markets began to fear the horse would be removed from the race altogether.
But Cheveley Park Stud director moved instead to switch trainers, with Elliott banned from UK racing pending an investigation by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) two weeks right before one of the biggest racing festivals in the world. “We had to do the right thing,” said Cheveley Park director Richard Thompson, something that Elliott certainly did not do. The question of whether or not the trainer is finished in the sport is another question for another day.
Online bets for Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard ramp up
Elliott’s two week ban means that Envoi Allen and Quilixios, due to race as the 9/2 (5.5, +450) favourite at Bet365 in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on day one at Cheltenham, will now be trained by Henry de Bromhead. They will be joined by Ballyadam, Malone Road and Guily Billy. Despite the blip in betting following the Elliott scandal, the markets have settled as punters relax with the news that these top steeds will be looked after at big yards. Ante post online bets came in for the pair as prices rose, punters clearly feeling that the switchy in stables would do neither horses’ chances any harm.
Another main contender at Cheveley Park Stud, Sir Gerhard, will now be trained by Cheltenham’s most successful ever trainer, Willie Mullins, and will compete against the Mullins trained Kilcruit in the Champion Bumper on the second day of the festival. Classic Getaway and Grangeclare West will follow Sir Gerhard to the Mullins yard in Co. Waterford, Ireland.
Will switching yards boost or dent these horses chances?
Those involved with racing know things are not that simple, and there are scores of variables involved when considering how well a horse will run a race. But with the SkyBet Supreme Novices Hurdle kicking off the Cheltenham Festival 2021 in less than two weeks’ time, the directors at Cheveley Park clearly felt their stance on the Elliott issue was worth more than jeopardising their chances at the festival. Noel and Valerie Moran, owners of JCB Triumph Hurdle runner Zanahiyr, currently second favourite at 11/4 (3.75, +275) with William Hill and other bookies, have postponed any decision whether to switch their horses from under Elliott’s care until the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board IHRB hearing on Friday.
How the switch will affect the horses is a question that will only be answered in the fullness of time. If Sir Gerhard and Envoi Allen both go on to victory it will go less to pointing to the success of the switch, while if neither horse triumphs it will do the opposite. In many ways it is a catch 22 situation for de Bromhead and Mullins. If the horses win, most of the good work will be attributed to Elliott. If they lose, it will be down to the switch. Either way, it adds even more drama and intrigue to what is undoubtedly one of the greatest horse racing festivals on the planet.