For trainer Gordon Elliott, the 2016 Gold Cup must still be fresh in the memory. Winning the Cheltenham Festival showpiece is a seismic moment for any trainer, and for Elliott, it represented another tick on the bucket list in terms of winning high-profile races, keeping company with some of the legends of the sport.
It was Don Cossack, ridden by Bryan Cooper, who gave Elliott this first taste of Gold Cup success with a comfortable victory in the end, striding clear of second-place Djakadam to win by four-and-a-half lengths. Elliott had won the Grand National back in 2007, but this represented a win to be savoured and appreciated.
“I won the Grand National when I was very young and probably didn’t appreciate it,” he said, “but we’re all going to appreciate this.”
It was a feather in the cap for the Irish trainer, but he is yet to repeat the achievement. With the 2020 Cheltenham Festival fast approaching, Elliott will be keen to make waves in the race once again, and his best chance could well be Delta Work. The seven-year-old ran well in his last two outings, both at Leopardstown, with Jack Kennedy in the saddle.
At the moment, Delta Work is third in the odds on Gold Cup winners, and will have his work cut out to stop the bookies’ current joint-favourites Santini, and last year’s champion Al Boum Photo. But perhaps from Elliott and Kennedy’s point of view, lurking in the shadows slightly may be the perfect approach to this race – to let others soak up the pressure and the spotlight while they quietly go about their work.
Elliott has been in confident mood ahead of the Gold Cup, saying that Delta Work is something of a “forgotten horse”, and that he could be perfectly suited to the unique demands of the Grade One showpiece on Friday 13th March.
“He’s all set for the Gold Cup,” he said. “I don’t think he’s done much wrong over the last couple of seasons – he was lame after Down Royal and was just beaten in the RSA last year. I think he’s made for the race. His style of racing will suit – going three-mile-two. He probably is a bit of a forgotten horse. He’s won five or six Grade Ones and gets the job done.”
Delta Work’s victory in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup in February was the performance that saw his odds for the Gold Cup slashed, as he overcame other Gold Cup rivals such as Kemboy and Presenting Percy to seal a first-place finish by one-and-a-half lengths. It was the kind of display that would fill trainer, jockey and punters alike with confidence.
Last year at Cheltenham, Delta Work didn’t do himself justice, as he finished third in the Novices’ Chase. Santini finished just ahead of him in second place, and psychology could play a part ahead of the Gold Cup as Santini is currently the bookies’ joint-favourite to win the race.
The fact that there is little being said about Delta Work’s chances will suit Elliott and those around the horse just fine. They’ll be happy for the likes of Al Boum Photo and Santini to soak up the spotlight, while they gear up for the race of this horse’s life.