FROM time immemorial, the ‘Spring Double’ has been a bonanza for bookmakers – with very good reason.
It requires punters to select the winner of the 22-runner Betway Lincoln – a one mile cavalry charge at Doncaster to herald the dawn of a new Flat season – and then the four-and-a-quarter-mile Randox Health Grand National, the world’s most unpredictable steeplechase.
Yet Malton trainer Brian Ellison is hoping to saddle the winner of both races – the ever popular Top Notch Tonto and Dream Walker, both owned by Hull’s Keith Brown, represent him in today’s big race while stablemate Definitly Red has now been backed into favouritism for next week’s National.
“We’ll see,” said the slightly non-plussed trainer when asked by The Yorkshire Post whether there was a possibility, however remote, of pulling off the most audacious double after bookmaker Paddy Power offered odds of 100-1.
He has good reason not to build up his hopes.
Only three trainers – Ivor Anthony, Denys Smith and, most recently, David Elsworth – have won both races, albeit in different years.
However, in 1984, Ireland’s globetrotting trainer Dermot Weld came close to achieving the near impossible when Saving Mercy won the Lincoln in 1984 before Greasepaint chased home Corbiere in the following week’s National when Jenny Pitman made history and became the first female trainer to win the Aintree marathon.
Yet it is testimony to Ellison’s growing renown as one of the country’s most pre-eminent dual-purpose trainers, and his uncanny knack to prepare horses with these races in mind, that he even has a chance to go one better than the legendary Weld.
Looking ahead to the National, the trainer said Definitly Red had another successful schooling session on Thursday over replica Aintree fences as the horse – and big race jockey Danny Cook – look to gain some extra experience on Malton’s gallops.
“At this moment in time, everything is fine.
He looks well,” said Ellison who discounted the sustained gamble by saying that the odds of Definitly Red, winner of Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick and Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chases, will mean nothing when the tape goes up.
As for today’s feature, Ellison was content with the runs of both Top Notch Tonto and Dream Walker at Wolverhampton when they chased home Richard Fahey’s Nimr who just failed to make the Lincoln cut and instead lines up in the consolation Spring Mile under Frankie Dettori.
Yet, while he says both are in “good form”, there’s no denying the popularity of Top Notch Tonto, a striking chestnut colt with white legs, who was second in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Champions Day in October 2013.
Ellison’s belated first Group winner on the Flat came a month previously, when landing Haydock’s Superior Mile when the tongue-in-cheek trainer blamed “jockeys” for not attaining the landmark earlier.
“Top Notch, he’s a very good horse and he’a horse that everyone recognises which has helped the yard,” added Ellison who has booked seven-pound claimer Ben Robinson to ride the crowd favourite with Ben Curtis on Dream Walker.
“We’ll look to go back to York, he loves it there, and then Galway where he was second last year.
“They’re good horses which is what you need.
“He won impressively there at the last meeting.”
Richard Fahey is mob-handed with five runners, including the 2015 hero Gabrial, but feels the handicapper has their measure.
“Gabrial has got nothing in hand,” the Malton handler said.
“You can say the same about Third Time Lucky, but he loves these big handicaps and likes a bit of juice in the ground.
“Heaven’s Guest has not got much in hand off 100. Dolphin Vista, Paul (Hanagan) rides him. He’s probably got the best chance.
“He’s in stall 10 so he’s got the ideal draw to follow the pace, wherever it is.
“Withernsea is next to him (in stall seven), but it’s a very open race.”
David O’Meara runs Bravery and Steel Train in the race.