BRIAN ELLISON could run staying steeplechaser Definitly Red over hurdles before a tilt at the Randox Health Grand National – the world’s greatest steeplechase.
The Malton trainer says he “couldn’t be happier” with the horse who defied 11st 10lb to finish an eyecatching fourth under Henry Brooke in last month’s three mile-plus Becher Chase over the world-famous Aintree obstacles.
“We’re busy planning for the National,” the Malton-based trainer told The Yorkshire Post. “He ran very well in the Becher – he jumped like a cat and stayed on at the end.
“He had 11st 10lb while the winner Walk In The Mill, whose a good horse, had 10st 8lb. I don’t have any qualms about him getting the four-and-a-quarter-mile trip in the big race.”
However, Ellison does not want to compromise the horse’s handicap mark over steeplechase fences prior to the publication of the National weights in the middle of next February, hence why he is looking at options over hurdles.
Confirming that a third Cheltenham Gold Cup tilt this March is “not a plan” for Definitly Red who is owned by Phil and Julie Martin from Tickhill, he is looking at “maybe two” runs before the National.
And he’d be delighted if the hat-trick seeking Tiger Roll, winner of the last two renewals, and former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River take their place at the head of the 40-runner field.
“It would mean he goes there with a nice racing weight,” said Ellison.
Definitly Red was travelling well in the 2017 National before jockey Danny Cook’s saddle slipped after jumping Becher’s Brook on the first circuit – and he had to pull up the chestnut horse.
However, even though Definitly Red is now 11, he remains one of the most popular horses in the North and became the first Yorkshire-trained horse, since Peter Easterby’s Cybrandian in 1987, to land Wetherby’s prestigious Charlie Hall Chase in November 2018.
He also has three other Grade Two wins to his name – the 2017 and 2018 renewals of the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree and the 2018 Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
Meanwhile, Ellison intends to drop novice steeplechaser Windsor Avenue – also owned by the Martins – back in trip for his next outing. Victorious in his first two starts over larger obstacles, the horse was then soundly beaten by the Jedd O’Keeffe-trained and Joe Colliver-ridden Sam Spinner at Doncaster last month.
However Sam Spinner is now out for the season with a pelvic injury, after surviving a gravity-defying blunder as Colliver was thrown from the saddle at the sixth last fence, while Ellison always harboured doubts about Windsor Avenue’s ability to stay three miles. He’ll now consider the two mile Lightning Novices’ Chase, a Grade Two contest, at Doncaster on January 25, provided the going is soft, or races at Musselburgh in early February.
“We didn’t get the trip but Sam Spinner is a very good horse and would have been one of the favourites for Cheltenham,” added Ellison.
“I always had it at the back of my mind, from last season, that Windsor Avenue wouldn’t get three miles.”