BRIAN ELLISON has set out early-season plans for stable star Definitly Red who is now established as one of the best staying steeplechasers in the country.
The Malton trainer says the 10-year-old has “come on” for a recent racecourse gallop at Newcastle – and is due to undertake a similar piece of work at Wetherby on October 14 ahead of the track’s season-opening meeting two days later.
Ellison says the main targets are Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase on November 2 and Aintree’s Many Clouds Chase on December 7 – Grade Two contests which the crowdpleasing horse won so impressively last season under regular rider Danny Cook.
From there, connections will then contemplate another tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup – Definitly Red was brought down in last season’s renewal when travelling well – or a weight-carrying performance in Aintree’s Grand National.
I’ve no reason to doubt that he will be just as good this year as last.Brian Ellison
However, the trainer stressed the final decision will rest with Phil Martin, from Tickhill, who owns the 10-year-old chaser.
“He’s certainly the best horse I’ve ever trained,” Ellison told The Yorkshire Post at Sedgefield races earlier this week where the frontrunning win of Snookered confirmed the wellbeing of his string.
“He just does his job at home. He could go to the gallops on his own because he knows the way. It’s why we took him to Newcastle and why we will go to Wetherby the week after next – just to break up his routine and see where we are.
“But he’s fine. I’ve no reason to doubt that he will be just as good this year as last.”
Definitly Red, the first Yorkshire horse to win the Charlie Hall since Peter Easterby’s Cybrandian in 1989, has won 14 out of 30 career starts and stands on the brink of £400,000 in career prize money.
As to whether the Gold Cup or Grand National will be the ultimate target – Definitly Red was pulled up in the 2017 National when the luckless Cook’s saddle slipped shortly after jumping Becher’s Brook on the first circuit – Ellison added: “It’s up to Phil (Martin). He’s the boss.”
Richard Fahey, meanwhile, is optimistic Sands Of Mali will be back to his peak to defend his crown in the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot later this month.
Sands Of Mali, ridden by former champion jockey Paul Hanagan, posted a career best performance to spring a 28-1 surprise in the six-furlong Group One last autumn at the main expense of the Godolphin-owned Harry Angel.
The Panis colt has shown nothing like that form in his three races this year at Meydan, Hamilton and Royal Ascot, but Fahey believes his star sprinter is returning to his best in time for his title defence.
“We’re very pleased with him, he came back from Ascot a little bit sore, a few little niggly problems that we’ve sorted,” said the Malton trainer.
“He always works well, he’s an exceptionally good work horse. We’re happy and where we want to be at this stage.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what else is turning up there at the moment, but I just feel that if we get our lad back, then I’m not too worried about anything.
“It was high on the priorities for this year, but we do need to get him back bouncing, which we’re not far off now.”
In other racing news, Laurens – the reigning Yorkshire horse of the year – is more likely to attempt to defend her Kingdom Of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes title on Saturday than head to France for the Prix de la Foret on Arc day.
Owner John Dance stresses the extra travel involved and the possibility of a wide draw in a big field just tip the scales in Newmarket’s favour.
A horse who has now won elite level Group One races in three successive seasons, Laurens has managed to get her head in front just once this season in the Prix Rothschild – but she was beaten only by a whisker when dropped to seven furlongs at York’s Ebor meeting.
Leyburn trainer Karl Burke’s stable star ran in that race to see if she would have the speed for the Foret, and Dance is in no doubt she would have.
But given her form at Newmarket – her only defeat came when second in the Guineas – she is likely to stay closer to home.
“Karl is pretty keen to go to Newmarket. I’m not sure what might persuade him against it at this stage – he seems pretty keen on it,” said Dance.
“Karl’s thoughts are there’s less travel involved, she’s got a great record at Newmarket and it will be less draw-dependent in a smaller field.
“You could say her personal best was actually in the York race over seven, giving plenty of weight away, but until then it was in the Sun Chariot last year.”
Jockey PJ McDonald confirmed on Tuesday that he expects to be back in time for this weekend, following his fall at Wolverhampton the previous evening. Dance added: “Hopefully PJ will be fit to ride her – we’ve got our fingers crossed.”