BRIAN Ellison, Yorkshire racing’s man for all seasons, has even more ambitious goals for the new year after a career-best 12 months enabled the trainer to record his first century of winners.
He has set his sights on long-overdue Group One success – Top Notch Tonto could be the horse – and is currently putting the finishing touches to 24 new boxes at his Spring Cottage Stables in Malton.
He has just acquired a satellite yard that will accommodate another 20 horses, taking his capacity to 150, and invested £160,000 in a special walker that will enable his string to be exercised in salt water to help the healing process with leg injuries.
It is no surprise that 61-year-old Ellison – now Britain’s pre-eminent dual-purpose trainer after his annus mirabilis – is a man on a mission as 2014 dawns.
His new year was due to begin at 7am with a 210-mile drive to Musselburgh where his six declared runners include Magic Skyline in the opener followed by the consistent Viva Colonia and Ultimate in the feature races at the Scottish track.
Admiral Hawke and Five In A Row are due to be in action closer to home at Catterick. The latter has a favourite’s chance at the North Yorkshire venue which saw Yorkist become Ellison’s 105th and final winner of 2013 last Saturday.
Ellison sums up his approach to racing and life as “hard work” – apt words for this proud son of a Tyneside shipbuilder who enjoyed moderate success as a journeyman jockey before taking out a training licence in 1989.
He adds: “Good staff, good people around me... better horses. We have a system that works and we keep to the system.
“We try to keep our horses happy, well fed and we don’t stretch them at home. They all work on the bridle. We are delighted and proud that we have had our best year to date. Every winner is special to us as we all work very hard as a team, 365 days a year, to achieve them. That’s what it is all about for us – we all want winners.”
Even with the extra horsepower at his disposal, racing’s grafter has his work cut out to emulate the successes of jump horses like Fleet Dawn and Ultimate, who won notable races in 2013 under Danny Cook, or Montefeltro who recorded a famous victory in the Irish Cesarewitch under young jockey Robert Tart.
Despite these successes, the Northumberland Plate still eludes this proud Geordie who was born on Pitmen’s Derby day in 1952.
A first Cheltenham Festival winner has also been elusive, although the trainer says he has a number of promising juveniles who will make their hurdling debuts shortly which will determine their prospects for the March meeting.
The sprinter Racy has also just jetted off to Dubai and will shortly become his yard’s first runner in the Middle East heat.
Then there is Top Notch Tonto, the potential career-defining horse owned by Keith Brown in the East Riding and who came from nowhere to give Ellison his first Group success at Haydock before finishing a highly creditable second to champion trainer Richard Hannon’s Olympic Glory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.
The chestnut gelding, four today, won over £225,000 for just coming second – the biggest pay-day of Ellison’s career by far – and is spending the winter at his proud owner’s home.
The white-faced horse will resume training at the end of January and Newbury’s top-level Lockinge Stakes, a race won by Sir Henry Cecil’s record-breaker Frankel in 2012, is the likely early-season target.
“I hope he can win a Group One, I’d be disappointed if he didn’t improve,” said Ellison. “We could have some superstars amongst our two-year-olds. Although they didn’t cost a fortune, we have a nice quality bunch and we are looking forward to their progress.”
Top Notch Tonto and his stablemates will also benefit from a water walker that epitomises Ellison’s determination to strive for greater success.
It will enable horses to retain, or regain, fitness while walking through healing salt water, a regime that prolonged the career of Grand National record-breaker Red Rum.
Asked after Top Notch Tonto’s breakthrough win in Haydock’s betfred.com Superior Mile why it had taken nearly a quarter of a century to train a group winner, Ellison sent this correspondent a concise text message: “Jockeys.”
Yet, as he ponders whether the aforementioned Montefeltro can finally win a Northumberland Plate, Ellison was more forthcoming about his team headed by Dale Swift, Tom Eaves and Barry McHugh on the Flat, and Danny Cook, Nathan Moscrop, Craig Gallagher, and Garry Lavery over jumps.
“They don’t always get it right and, yes, they have probably all had a dressing down at some point, but at least we know that they are always trying their hardest and they will always do best by the horse,” added the trainer.
To Brian Ellison, and his wife Claire, that is all that matters.