Elliott continues to hold his place
Season set for fascinating conclusion as giants Gordon and Mullins continue to lock horns
As odds on favourites go, Sutton Place looked pretty rock solid yesterday prior to the Boyne Hurdle at Navan and while the Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old did extend his winning sequence to five, next month's Cheltenham Festival remains off the agenda.
Sutton Place backers had moments of concern during the Grade Two contest which saw the horse stepped up beyond two-miles for the first time. Clearly a horse with plenty of class though, Sutton Place was still able to put almost four-lengths between himself and stable companion De Plotting Shed at the end of the two miles and five-furlongs for the middle leg of a treble for Elliott.
Aintree too looks off limit's this year as Fairyhouse has been earmarked for Sutton Place who quite clearly excites his connections ahead of a novice chase campaign next season. You'd have to think he may yet get a crack at a Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in the meantime though.
Cheltenham chat is the dominant subject at this time of every year and the absence of Identity Thief was a blow to yesterday's fixture and he too now looks all but ruled out of a Cheltenham appearance in 2017 after trotting up lame yesterday morning.
Despite all the talk of four days in Gloucestershire next month though, it would be unfair to demote the fascinating battle for the Irish trainers championship as just another subplot.
The calculator continues in overdrive as the Irish trainer's championship is decided on prize money at the end of the Punchestown Festival and being champion of your profession is a major deal that Gordon Elliott has made no secret of craving and Willie Mullins has done a fantastic job of retaining.
Only one man can have his name on the roll of honour though and although the weekend saw Elliott send out just one winner more than Mullins, it was still a couple of days that saw the Meath native extend his lead.
Elliott began the weekend just short of €275,000 ahead of Mullins and finished up yesterday with over €330,000 of an advantage helped mainly by Sutton Place and then Ball D'arc claiming the Flyingbolt Novice Chase in Identity Thief's absence, while Poli Roi lived up to his hype in the concluding bumper.
Elliott suggested a couple of weeks ago that winners in Ireland were more important than targeting big prizes across the water but there are obvious exceptions. The Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle and the Grand National is the most famous of horse races.
However, yesterday brought further reiteration that Elliott's quest to win a second Grand National at Aintree has taken a severe dent as the Gigginstown camp won't be going back on their stance about Don Poli, Empire Of Dirt and Outlander being too highly rated by British handicapper, Phil Smith.
They all have options at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown but a tilt at the BoyleSports Irish Grand National wasn't ruled out and if one of that trio could snare the €250,000 first prize at Fairyhouse for Elliott, he may just be thanking Smith for helping him realise his dream.
One of the other major talking points from yesterday was the performance of Acapella Bourgeois.
Making every yard of the running to win for the fifth time in 11 starts, the RSA Chase will be under consideration this week for Sandra Hughes' stable star and he'd be a strong Irish challenger if taking his chance in Cheltenham.
Owned by the Slaneyville Syndicate, who are long term supporters of the Hughes yard, they hopefully have a lot of big days ahead after he blitzed his rivals by 32-lengths in the Flyingbolt Novice Chase.
Acapella Bourgeois is a horse who likes getting on with things out in front and Roger Loughran seized the opportunity when his seven rivals gifted him an easy lead and never got into contention, leaving him to come home alone in front.
It was a race that the seven other jockey's would love to have back with hindsight and there was no doubt some element of misjudgement in there but it would be wrong to ignore the past form Acapella Bourgeois and the form of this race may well prove to be no fluke in time.
Irish racing returns on Wednesday when Punchestown will leave the turnstiles unmanned and offer free entry to all and for anyone in a position to get to the County Kildare venue, there will be an intriguing clash of Apple's Jade and Limini in the feature Quevega Mares Hurdle.
Both could well be set to meet again in the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham next month but with the Champion Hurdle a race that has to be tempting for connections to have a go given the notable absentee's don't be surprised if Wednesday's meeting is a one off for Apple's Jade and Limini with the winner booking a place in the opening day's feature.