How ‘The Don’ can become King at Kempton

Bryan Cooper hugs Don Cossack after winning at Down Royal in October (Picture: Niall Carson/PA).
Bryan Cooper hugs Don Cossack after winning at Down Royal in October (Picture: Niall Carson/PA).
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GORDON ELLIOTT has never lacked ambition. This, after all, is a man who won the 2007 Grand National in his very first season as a trainer courtesy of a bargain buy at Doncaster Sales.

Now this most amiable of trainers, who had not even saddled a jumps winner in his native Ireland before Silver Birch conquered Aintree in 2007, hopes to add to his burgeoning reputation when stable star Don Cossack lines up in today’s William Hill King George VI Chase.

Don Cossack finished last season as the highest-rated chaser in Britain and Ireland, pipping the now injury-sidelined Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree for bragging rights.

But this supremely talented horse will probably need a career-best performance if he is to triumph at Kempton under big-race jockey Bryan Cooper – one of the best young riders on either side of the Irish Sea.

Their opponents include a revitalised Cue Card who is resurgent after winning Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase; course specialist Silviniaco Conti who is bidding to join a select group of champions to win three King Georges, and Vautour who is held in the highest regard by Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins.

Elliott has solid grounds for optimism – 20-times champion jockey AP McCoy has said Don Cossack is the horse to beat should the Surrey track avoids the worst of Storm Eva.

However, Elliott has worked hard for this moment. The son of a mechanic, he had no involvement with horses until he became an amateur jockey as a teenager, initially working for Tony Martin on weekends.

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 his £20,000 purchase of Silver Birch, a horse which had lost its way at Paul Nicholls’s yard, demonstrated shrewdness which led to him becoming one of the main trainers for Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud.

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 training’s elite.

“I’ve got great staff and I’d say the majority of them have ridden a winner on the track,” said Elliott whose racing secretary is former North Yorkshire trainer Ferdy Murphy’s daughter Zoe.

Elliott’s next task is to try to dethrone all-conquering champion trainer Willie Mullins, who continues to monopolise the Irish National Hunt scene and saddled a record eight winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

If Elliott is to bridge the gap, Don Cossack – known as The Don – will be leading the charge.

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, including a famous victory at Aintree last April under McCoy.

Win or lose, Elliott already has one eye on the future. He said: “The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the ultimate plan. I got excited talking about him as a younger horse, and Michael (O’Leary) gave me a telling-off. He won a Grade One as a novice, but Don Cossack is the finished article now.”

Just like his trainer.

TODAY’S meeting at Wetherby has been abandoned due to waterlogging.