INTERVIEW: Trainer Warren Greatrex fances La Bague Au Roi’s chancesThe first Yorkshire-trained winner since Peter Easterby’s Cybrandian prevailed in 1987, Cook hopes to join the Charlie Hall greats on the diminutive horse that he calls ‘Big Red’.
Victory in today’s £100,000 contest for the 10-year-old chestnut gelding, trained at Malton by Brian Ellison and owned by Phil Martin, would see the defending champion become just the seventh dual winner of an historic contest that celebrates the late Wetherby trainer Charlie Hall.
The six to achieve the feat – Wayward Lad, Celtic Shot, Barton Bank, One Man, See More Business and, most recently, Ollie Magern – represent some of modern jump racing’s most iconic names.
Cook is hopeful his mount can get the better of the likes of Warren Greatrex’s highly-regard mare La Bague Au Roi and the progressive Top Ville Ben for Catterick trainer Phil Kirby. “The horse is in great form. Brian’s horses have been running great of late so that’s a big tick in the box too,” Cook told The Yorkshire Post.
“I schooled him on Thursday morning and he jumped very well and seemed very full of himself. No excuses. He seems as good as ever – there are no qualms in that respect and he has still has the fire in the belly.”
Conditions today – and the complexion of the Charlie Hall – are likely to be very different compared to 12 months ago.
Then, Wetherby officials had to water the track extensively because of drying ground and a four-runner field became even more depleted when Double Shuffle crashed out at the very first fence before Black Corton made a shudering blunder under Bryony Frost shortly afterwards.
Yet, just last week, parts of the Wetherby track were under water and the presence of the mare La Bague Au Roi, a dual Grade One-winning novice chaser for champion jockey Richard Johnson, adds more quality to the select seven-runner line-up.
“The mare means there’s a lot more depth than last year,” said Cook as he perused the entries. “In that respect, it will be a better race but I still think ‘Red’ is the one to beat in my mind.”
When asked what it takes to win a three-mile chase around Wetherby, he explained: “The main thing is a good start because the first fence comes up very quickly. Good jump at the first and that should put you in a good rhythm. You need at the back of your mind, when you jump the last at the end of the back straight for the final time, that there’s still a long way to go and you need to conserve whatever energy you can.
“Wetherby is a great track to ride because it is even with nice sweeping bends.”
Growing up in Romford, Essex, the Charlie Hall Chase was always one of the highlights of Cook’s year because it meant the resumption of National Hunt racing on terrestrial television.
Little did he realise that he would become part of the illustrious race’s roll of honour when he left home, without ever having sat on a horse, to go to the Northern Racing College in Doncaster.
It explains why he welcomes the decision of ITV Racing to bring its entire production operation to Wetherby for the first time since the network became racing’s terrestrial broadcaster in January, 2017.
Previously, presenter Ed Chamberlin – and his team – have been based at Ascot on this day and were criticised last year for being condescending about the success of Definitly Red, a horse with 14 wins and nearly £400,000 of prize money to his name.
These numbers could be even more impressive if Cook’s saddle had not slipped from the horse in the 2017 National – or if the luckless Definitly Red had not been brought down in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
While a second National tilt is a possibility, Cook’s immediate priority is winning a second Charlie Hall. “It’s a race I grew up watching on television and always wanted to win,” he added. “Hopefully it will work well for ITV. It’s such a good day, and track it is surprising that it has taken so long to get them up here.
“Though it never gets many runners, the Charlie Hall is a great spectacle because it marks the return of the three-mile steeplechasers who turn up each year – and who the public have been following for years.”
Horses like Definitly Red.
JEDD O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner recorded a second successive novice chase win at Wetherby yesterday when ridden to victory by Joe Colliver.