BRIAN ELLISON hopes the prospect of drying ground will bring out the best in stable star Definitly Red in this week’s Grade One Betfred Bowl – the day one highlight of Aintree’s Randox Health Grand National meeting.
The Malton trainer confirmed the nine-year-old is an intended runner for the prestigious three- mile-and-one-furlong chase just four weeks after plugging on to finish sixth to Colin Tizzard’s Native River in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Like champion trainer Nicky Henderson’s Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite who head the field for Thursday’s test, the big unknown is whether the Cheltenham race will have left its mark on the horses.
“He seems all right and did a nice piece of work on Saturday,” Ellison told The Yorkshire Post.
“It was a hard race on that ground at Cheltenham. Everything had a hard race. It was desperate.
“We won’t know until we run. It will be his last race of the season.”
Pulled up in last season’s Grand National when luckless jockey Danny Cook’s saddle slipped, Definitly Red – owned by retired Tickhill businessman Phil Martin and his wife Julie – won the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree last December.
Immediately afterwards, connections ruled out a tilt at the Gold Cup – and nominated the Betfred Bowl as their priority –before a change of heart after the horse’s clear cut win in Cheltenham’s Cotswold Chase in late January.
Though Ellison says Defintly Red had to go for the Gold Cup following the Cotswold Chase win, the heavy ground was a significant negative on the day in a race that saw Might Bite and Native River dual from the off.
Ellison also plans to run Forest Bihan in Thursday’s Red Rum Chase which celebrates the legendary three-time National winner. Again, drying ground will play to the strengths of the two-mile chaser.
Both will be ridden by the aforementioned Cook who confirmed over the weekend that he intends to ride the Sue Smith-trained I Just Know in the National. He was speaking after the Smith-trained Smooth Stepper showed great resolution on bottomless ground to land Kelso’s feature Liz Adam Memorial Chase on Saturday with stablemate Blakemount fourth for the High Eldwick yard.
The Smith stable, victorious in the National five years ago with the 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore, will learn today if two other horses will make the 40-runner cut for the £1m race.
Delusionofgranduer needs nine higher-rated horses to be withdrawn – while Cheltenham Festival third Vintage Clouds needs 12 to come out.
Meanwhile, Colin Tizzard, bidding to become the first trainer to win the Grand National and Gold Cup in the same year since the late Fred Rimell pulled off the feat in 1976 with Rag Trade and Royal Frolic, has booked teenager Harry Cobden to ride The Dutchman, a winner of Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase in January.
Nick Scholfield is due to be aboard the Patrick and James Griffin-trained Maggio whose owners, Douglas Pryde and Jim Beaumont, were victorious with the aforementioned Auroras Encore.
And Mouse Morris is more than happy to give Rachael Blackmore the leg up on Alpha Des Obeaux in the big race.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned eight-year-old won the Clonmel Oil Chase in the autumn and was last seen finishing sixth under Blackmore in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in early February.
Morris, who won the 2016 Grand National with Rule The World, has intentionally kept Alpha Des Obeaux fresh since and hopes he can give last season’s champion Irish conditional jockey a good spin on her debut ride in the race.
Morris said: “Rachael has been lucky for us and she’s a very good pilot. We’re delighted to have her on board.
“He (Alpha Des Obeaux) is a Grade Two winner over fences and he’s going into the race fresh. I think he’s at his best when he’s fresh.
“The National is the National, but hopefully he has a chance.”