BRIAN ELLISON is hopeful that stable star Definitly Red will be more than a match for steeplechasing superstars Coneygree and Cue Card at Wetherby this Saturday.
Thirteen top-class horses have been declared for the £100,000 bet365 Charlie Hall Chase, the highest number of initial entries in recent years, and it promises to be a race to match the stature of the contest.
Trained by Mark and Sara Bradstock, the injury-hit Coneygree has been lightly-raced since winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2015 and, in doing so, becoming the first novice to win the blue riband contest since Captain Christy 41 years previously.
As for the Colin Tizzard-trained Cue Card, the veteran won the Charlie Hall Chase two years ago and has won just about every major steeplechase in the calendar other than the Gold Cup.
Yet this does not perturb Malton-based Ellison who is encouraged by Definitly Red’s win in the Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day last over the Charlie Hall course and distance.
His stable star, owned by Tickhill’s Phil Martin, has also won first time out for three of the first four seasons and he has no qualms about the horse’s fitness.
“It’s like a mini Gold Cup, isn’t it?” Malton-based Ellison told The Yorkshire Post. “He’s in good fettle and had plenty of work.
“The main two are Coneygree and Cue Card – it’s who is in the best form first time out.
“Looking at the race, he will need to be in good form. He has been away and galloped, and looks a million dollars at the moment.
“I think he is going to be up to the rise in class.”
Blaklion, another course winner, was fourth in last year’s Charlie Hall and makes his first appearance since finishing fourth in the Grand National. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies also has Bristol De Mai under consideration for the three-mile Grade Two contest.
Others in the mix include David Pipe’s National sixth Vieux Lion Rouge and Village Vic from Philip Hobbs’ stable, winner of the 2015 Bobby Renton Chase at Wetherby.
Though the aforementioned Tizzard saddles Sizing Condelco, all eyes will be on Cue Card who disappointed in last year’s Charlie Hall before bouncing back to land Haydock’s Betfair Chase.
However, the trainer appears happy with the 11-year-old’s wellbeing and suggested the two-and-half-mile Ryanair Chase, rather than the Gold Cup, could be the veteran’s ultimate Cheltenham target next March form and fitness permitting.
“I think he’s better this autumn than he was 12 months ago,” said Tizzard. “We took him to Wincanton for a gallop and he finished eight lengths ahead of a 155-rated horse.”
Equally impressive is the initial entries for the West Yorkshire Hurdle, the main support race, and horses of the calibre of Neil King’s Lil Rockerfeller, Dan Skelton’s Aux Ptits Soins and the Warren Greatrex-trained Missed Approach who could return to hurdles after finishing second in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March.