Definitly Red on course for Gold Cup

DANNY COOK has enjoyed many red letter days since teaming up with Yorkshire trainers Brian Ellison and Sue Smith.

Definitly Red won a second successive Many Clouds Chase at Aintree under Danny Cook.

Yet few have been as satisfying as his dual success with Definitly Red and Midnight Shadow at Aintree on Saturday.

Ellison’s Definitly Red is on track for a second tilt at the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup after a second successive win in the Many Clouds Chase, a race which saw 2017 Grand National winner One For Arthur’s comeback run end at the third fence.

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The Smith-trained Midnight Shadow’s imposing win over hurdles confirmed that last season’s Scottish Champion Hurdle success was no fluke.

Altior and Nico de Boinville dug deep to win Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase.

“When I was going to the races, I thought to myself ‘these are my best two horses’,” a delighted Cook told The Yorkshire Post.

“I was hoping both would do well – or it would be a long season. It’s good to have got the season properly started.”

The first of Cook’s high-profile successes was Midnight Shadow who relished the step up in trip to two-and-a-half miles.

He got the better of Ch’tibello after the horses came together at the final flight. Haydock’s Champion Hurdle Trial could, says Cook, be an option for Midnight Shadow, who travelled through the race well and appeared to have plenty more to give.

He is also keen for the horse to return to Cheltenham following a disappointing run in last month’s Greatwood Hurdle which perplexed the rider.

Cook wonders if it was a mistake to go wide in the search of better ground when the horse likes “the hustle and bustle” of racing.

Yet Cheltenham – and the Gold Cup – is the plan for Definitly Red, with connections ruling out a run between now and next March’s showpiece race.

This latest win – Cook’s eighth on Definitly Red from 13 starts – also franked the form of last month’s Charlie Hall Chase win at Wetherby when Double Shuffle was a first-fence casualty.

The three-mile-plus race saw Cook’s mount lead Double Shuffle for the whole trip after One For Arthur unseated luckless jockey Tom Scudamore with an uncharacteristic blunder put down to exuberance following a long lay-off.

Extravagant at some fences, the Yorkshire steeplechaser was careful at others and Cook believes the horse needs a lead to be seen at his very best.

“He’s done it well, gone around there having a lovely time with his ears pricked in front – and when I gave him a kick after two out to go and really lengthen, he really put the race to bed,” added the rider.

“Then, as soon as he did that, I let the gas off again. He just seems to be getting better, and has been great for me and Brian as well – I’m very lucky to be in this position to ride him.

“If there’s any horse in training that deserves a Grade One, he’s earned his right to nick one now. I know him – we get on well together. He just does enough, then when I ask him for a bit more he gives me that.”

Owned by Tickhill’s Phil and Julie Martin, the win came in spite of the rain-sodden conditions, according to Malton-based Ellison.

“My wife (Claire) said to me ‘He doesn’t look very happy’,” said Ellison. “I said ‘He hates the rain’.

“He just doesn’t like rain. If you ride him out in it, he wants to go back home. You can’t blame him, can you? The next step will probably be the Gold Cup, I think. I just hope we get better ground than we did in March when sixth – and we’ll go straight there fresh.”

Connections are also open-minded about a second tilt at the Grand National – Definitly Red was pulled up in the 2017 race won by One For Arthur.

Rivals would include Robert Walford’s Walk In The Mill, who won the Becher Chase over the National fences from the staying on Vieux Lion Rouge after Jimmy Moffatt’s veteran Highland Lodge fell at The Chair.

The biggest win in jockey James Best’s career, Walk In The Mill is owned by Dido Harding whose Cool Dawn won the Cheltenham Gold Cup 20 years ago.

Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Altior put up one of his gutsiest performances yet to get the better of Un de Sceaux in Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase.

Nico de Boinville’s mount, who was making his seasonal debut in very soft ground that would not have played to his strengths, looked better than ever in taking his record to a perfect 10 wins over fences for champion trainer Nicky Henderson.