When the TV cameras are rolling and the Dictaphones are on the table, racehorse trainers generally toe the line pretty admirably – even if conversations in private are rather more brusque affairs.
But Gordon Elliott and Paul Nicholls have breached the unwritten protocol and drawn battle lines in a war of words over the relative merits of British and Irish racing.
It’s a contretemps that adds further intrigue to the head-to-head battle at the Cheltenham Festival, with the Prestbury Cup a shiny metaphor for the gulf that has existed between British and Irish racing in recent years.
The BHA have moved to improve the performance of domestic horses by heralding a raft of changes, including the reclassification of races and improved prize money, in a bid to get more of the top British trainers competing against one another more often.
And that has been the bone of contention for Elliott, who believes that Irish connections have ‘no hiding place’, and therefore no choice, but to take each other on for the biggest prizes across the sea – not always the case in the UK.
When quizzed about the struggles of British horses against overseas raiders, the trainer said:
“To be honest, they bring a lot of it upon themselves. They can duck and dive each other the whole time. Here, you have to take each other on.
“We’ve the best racing here because we have to take each other on every day. There’s no hiding place.”
Those comments went down like the proverbial lead balloon with British trainer Paul Nicholls, who cut to the chase and retorted ‘what a load of b*******’.
“We’re not frightened of anyone; we’re not ducking and diving and trying to avoid running against each other,” Nicholls commented.
“We run our horses where we think it’s best for them.”
It certainly adds an extra edge to the 2023 Cheltenham Festival in March, where the duo are likely to lock horns on more than one occasion. Incidentally, 41 of the last 56 races run at the meeting have been won by Irish trained horses….
Come and Have a Go
Nicholls was clearly in boisterous mood at the Jockey Club press conference ahead of Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, in which he will run his prized asset Greaneteen.
And the Somerset handler believes his horse is the one to beat in the Grade One contest, despite the presence of Shishkin and Edwardstone in the field.
“I think Shishkin has got to beat us at the moment,” Nicholls said.
“You’d have to say that this is a home game for us in a lot of ways as he loves Sandown.”
Greaneteen is firming up, pun intended, at the bookies on account of the dry ground, and with a fairly dry week of weather expected for much of England, Nicky Henderson is tearing his hair out at the possibility of having to withdraw Shishkin from the Tingle Creek.
“I cannot believe Sandown is going to go from abandoned half-way through the last meeting to fast ground in less than four weeks,” he mused.
“The intention is to run Shishkin, but if it’s not right for him we won’t.”