BRIAN Ellison can be forgiven for watching the replay of stable star Definitly Red’s Cotswold Chase win “about 20 times” after returning to North Yorkshire from Cheltenham.
It was the Malton trainer’s first win at jump racing’s headquarters since Latalomne triumphed in 2001 and now he has a genuine contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Though the Phil Martin-owned Definitly Red will be given a Grand National entry this week, Ellison confirmed to The Yorkshire Post that the blue riband race is the priority.
Past winners of the Cotswold Chase include Gold Cup and National winners, and Ellison’s pride was self-evident when the horse surged clear in the home straight under jockey Danny Cook.
“The horse is fine. He’ll go straight to Cheltenham,” said Ellison, a top dual purpose and former Ebor-winning trainer, who saddled his 1,000th winner in 2006.
“I’m over the moon. It’s as good a day you can get. It wasn’t just the win, it’s how he did it.
“It was a hell of a gallop – he had a great battle up front with American who I thought was going the better.
“On the final bend, it was how he quickened. Danny went for it, gave him a quick tap and he took off.
“We got back at 9pm on Saturday and watched the replay about 20 times.
“The media made a lot of my record at Cheltenham, but you need a good horse to win there and he’s the best I’ve taken there.
“We’ve been unlucky. We were beaten in a photo-finish with Bothy, but I’ve taken a lot of no-hopers there because the owners want a day out.”
Initially, connections ruled out a Cheltenham tilt after Definitly Red’s win in last month’s Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.
However they decided they had “nothing to lose” and would have trained the horse for Aintree’s Grade One Bowl, or the National, if the race had not worked out.
Yet, while Definitly Red will have to improve again to get close to defending champion Sizing John, and King George hero Might Bite, in the Gold Cup, Ellison – and Cook – are convinced Definitly Red will be a better horse on good ground because he’s such a good moving horse with a high cruising speed.
“Danny gets on great with the horse and gave him a great ride – he is probably one of the best jockeys riding around,” added Ellison has he contemplates his first Gold Cup runner.
“There was plenty of pace on and they never let up in this heavy ground.
“He shows that he stays well and it’s the Gold Cup now.
“He has got better every year and the plan this season was to keep him fresh. Today was the day when we decided whether to go for the Gold Cup, so we will go there now.”
Ellison’s words were echoed by Cook whose only worry was when Definitly Red idled on the long run-in having surged into an unassailable lead.
“He is not pretty to look at and not overly big, but he is the one you all love to have. He does nothing quickly up the gallops and what you see is what you get. He performs on the racedays – he does no flash work but just keeps going,” he said.
“Definitly Red is a horse that always goes under the radar. You only have to look at his runs to wins ratio he is now 12 wins from 23 races, so he is above 50 per cent.
“I’d like to dedicate it to my grandad, who is not very well and I don’t know how much longer he has got. He asked if I could get a big one at Cheltenham and I am glad that I have.”
Ironically Definitly Red could have lined up in Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase, but he would not have been suited by the tacky going on Town Moor.
On another significant day for Yorkshire jump racing, that race went to Sue Smith’s Wakanda, ironically a horse that Cook regularly rides.
With Malcolm Jefferson’s Waiting Patiently a leading contender for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and Jedd O’Keeffe’s Grade One winner Sam Spinner the favourite for the Stayers Hurdle in March, these are exciting times for National Hunt devotees in these parts.
“Hopefully the north is going down there with a few chances,” added Ellison who now knows his way to the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure after this successful reconnaissance mission.