BRIAN ELLISON is relatively relaxed about a last-minute change of plan for Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Definitly Red.
Having said his stable star would not have a prep race, the 10-year-old lines up in the Malcolm Jefferson Memorial Chase at Kelso over two miles seven furlongs.
Yet, with just one rival and no guarantee that Definitly Red could have a racecourse gallop at Wetherby next week because of restrictions imposed in the wake of the outbreak of equine flu, Malton-based Ellison says it is a calculated risk.
And the £25,000 prize fund is another incentive for a horse who won Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase – and also Aintree’s Many Clouds Chase – towards the end of last year.
Opposition comes in the form of Grand National runner Captain Redbeard who will be in receipt of 10 pounds from the Danny Cook-ridden Definitly Red.
Ellison said: “It wasn’t really the plan to run him, to be honest. Phil (Martin, owner) said we should just stick him in – and if it looked like it might just be a school round we might run, but if it looked competitive then we wouldn’t bother.
“If he hadn’t run the plan was to take him to Wetherby for a racecourse gallop – but talking to Jonjo (Sanderson, clerk of the course at Wetherby) he wasn’t sure we’d be able to do that anyway because of this flu situation.
“There’s only two runners at Kelso, so it couldn’t have worked out any better really.”
Definitly Red is a best-priced 33-1 for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 15.
“He had a racecourse gallop at Doncaster recently and worked very well,” Ellison continued. “He’s in great form at home and looks a million dollars.
“He will improve for the run, he wasn’t due to run until the other day, and hopefully it will put him spot-on for Cheltenham.
“He was sixth in the Gold Cup last year. It all depends on the ground on the day. If it’s good, I’ll be happy.”
Pleased that racing resumed yesterday after a six-day shutdown owing to equine flu, Ellison says he would particularly like his horse to do justice to a race being run in honour of Malcolm Jefferson.
A much-respected trainer at Malton, Jefferson died from cancer just over a year ago and his daughter Ruth saddled her first-ever winner in her own right when Cyrus Darius won the Morebattle Hurdle on the corresponding Kelso card 12 months ago.
“Malcolm was a good mate of mine and it would be nice to win his race,” added Ellison.
Yet, while some trainers have expressed frustration at the length of time it is taking for their horses to be given the all-clear to run, plans for the Cheltneham Festival are already gathering pace.
In addition to Definitly Red, reigning champion Native River and Presenting Percy are among 36 horses to stand their ground for the Gold Cup in just over four weeks time.
The Colin Tizzard-trained Native River saw off Might Bite to claim victory in a pulsating renewal of the blue riband last March, and will not run again before defending his crown next month after connections decided against running in the re-scheduled Denman Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
Presenting Percy – the clear favourite for the Festival feature – is set to be seen in action this weekend, with trainer Pat Kelly aiming his stable star at the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.
Paul Nicholls has left in King George hero Clan Des Obeaux, Cotswold Chase winner Frodon and Black Corton as his prospective Gold Cup runners.
Willie Mullins has scratched Acapella Bourgeois, Total Recall and Yorkhill but Ireland’s champion trainer still has six contenders as he chases an elusive first Gold Cup win.
They include Kemboy, Bellshill and Al Boum Photo.
The other horses scratched were 2017 winner Sizing John who has been ruled out for the season and it would not be the greatest surprise if he was retired.
“I wasn’t happy with him and our vet came down and examined him,” said trainer Jessica Harrington.
“We will do what is best for him and we’ll speak to our veterinary team over the coming weeks and months.”