Fingers crossed for Yorkshire’s Grand National hopefuls Henry Brooke and Definitly Red

HENRY BROOKE and Brian Ellison are emblematic of the enduring romance of the Grand National as Definitly Red carries the hopes of Yorkshire at Aintree today.

Brooke lines up in the world’s greatest steeplechase, sponsored by Randox, just months after breaking his neck in a gallops fall; Ellison, the son of a Newcastle ship fitter, is one of racing’s great grafters and dual-purpose trainers.

In Definitly Red, who is owned by Phil and Julie Martin from Tickhill, the jockey and trainer have a veteran horse with a touch of class, and a huge following in Yorkshire and far beyond owing to his consistency over the years.

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“For me personally with the injury, it would be the fairytale end to the season but fairytales don’t often happen so we keep our fingers crossed,” says Brooke who suffered a heavy fall at Sedgefield yesterday and will need to be passed fit by racecourse doctors.

Henry Brooke and Definitly Red lead Brian Ellison's string up the Malton gallops before the Randox Grand National. Photo: Gary Longbottom.
Henry Brooke and Definitly Red lead Brian Ellison's string up the Malton gallops before the Randox Grand National. Photo: Gary Longbottom.

Yorkshire – and racing – will be doing so when the 40 National runners gallop to the first of 30 fences, over four and a quarter miles of the most recognisable racecourse in the world.

After all, the very fact that Brooke, from Middleham, is in fine fettle, and speaking so candidly after riding Definitly Red on Malton’s gallops at daybreak, is a racing miracle.

A heavy fall at Hexham in October, 2016 left the Yorkshireman in an induced coma fighting for his life. He was back, and riding, undeterred and unfazed, over the National fences within two months.

Yet the risks are omnipresent and Brooke, 30, initially thought he was being “soft” last November when he gave up three rides after a fall at trainer Oliver Greenall’s gallops in Cheshire.

Jockey Henry Brooke leads Randox Grand National contender Definitly Red back to Brian Ellison's stables in Malton.

Not a bit of it. He had broken three vertebrae in his neck and had come within a whisker of being paralysed weeks before his partner Alice White gave birth to their son, Arthur.

Back racing – and riding winners in February – he would like nothing more than to win the ultimate race, and test of horsemanship, and dedicate his National to the staff at Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund rehab centre in Malton, that specialises in rebuilding broken jockeys.

There is no discernible sign of any ill-effect as Brooke and Definitly Red canter up the gallops under the trainer’s watchful eye – horse and rider are at ease.

There is a cheeky thumbs-up as he walks the chaser, a 15-time winner, back to Ellison’s stables – getting a horse fit for Aintree, says the trainer, is as difficult as the actual race and this is another pleasing workout.

Jockey Henry Brooke washes down Randox Grand National contender Definitly Red.

Then a cheery smile as he tries to wash down this beautiful chestnut horse, Definitly Red swishing his tail and a hind leg to register his displeasure. “He’s trying not to get wet himself!” says Brooke.

What is clear, however, is his love of horses and steely determination as he talks about his own injury struggles that have left him with a slight shoulder hunch. “I’ve had a good few injuries but I’ve had a lot of great days and the great days outweigh the bad ones,” he tells The Yorkshire Post.

“It was pretty close at a few stages but it’s the only thing I like doing. If I wasn’t a jockey, I don’t know what I would be doing. I find myself sat at home injured watching it (racing).”

One of those races was last December’s Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle when Definitly Red suffered an uncharacteristic fall and regular rider Danny Cook decided to step aside with impaired vision, a legacy of a previous mishap.

Trainer Brian Ellison with Randox Grand National contender Definitly Red.

“I was always hoping to be back for the National, I didn’t know whether I would be riding him,” said Brooke, who partnered Definitly Red to a fourth place finish at Kelso last time out behind National favourite Cloth Cap.

“He’s just a special horse, isn’t he? He gave me my first Rowland Meyrick winner (Wetherby, 2016) and I’ve ridden him on and off, and was fourth on him in the 2019 Becher over the National course. I thought he handled the fences well. He also hasn’t had his good ground for a couple of years. He’s a graded horse in a handicap and has a solid each-way chance.”

Brooke, who won last month’s Eider Chase at Newcastle on Sam’s Adventure for the Martins and Ellison, is also fulsome in his praise for the trainer. “I don’t just like him as a trainer. I like him as a person,” he stresses.

“He was the one who rang me up as soon as he knew I was injured, and kept phoning each week to check on my progress. It’s easy to be remembered every day you’re a jockey, you’re soon forgotten when you are not riding. He’s just a top guy.”

This, says Ellison, is all part of the job and he feels, on this morning, for Andy Robertson, his travelling head lad, who normally rides Defintly Red on the gallops. He hopes he is soon forgiven. With over 1,200 career winners to his name, the 68-year-old says it is important to have a rapport with his riders to get the best results when he, and wife Claire, are overseeing 80 horses and more than 25 staff.

He believed he had Definitly Red primed for last year’s National before Covid forced its abandonment. Now, the biggest concern is the horse having to carry 11st 1lb – far more than the likes of Cloth Cap – and a winter that saw the chaser have a large tooth removed following a mouth abscess. “I was very happy with his last run at Kelso,” says Ellison. “He ran to the line and he wasn’t stopping. I know Cloth Cap is well-handicapped but the National is another mile, different track, more fences, more horses.”

Ellison knows this to his cost – Definitly Red was amongst the pacesetters in the 2017 National when Cook’s saddle slipped in a melee on the landing side of Becher’s Brook. The horse was pulled up. “One of those things. Danny (Cook) did well to stay on,” says the trainer.

He is taking the build-up in his stride – he is more exercised about his beloved Newcastle United’s relegation fight and has even named his new Cane Corso dog Bruce after the Premier League club’s manager “because they’re both miserable”.

The football hurts this proud Geordie (and long adopted Yorkshireman) whose remembers watching the first televised Nationals with his late father and being captivated by the grey Nicolaus Silver’s win in 1961. Now Ellison’s Spring Cottage Stables are instantly recognisable because of its striking black and white livery in homage to Newcastle United.

In the office, there is a striking photo of Ellison’s Moyenne Corniche winning the 2011 Ebor at York – the first of three races he wants to win more than any other. The others are the Melbourne Cup – “It’s difficult getting a horse good enough” – and the National. There is room for a photo of Definitly Red if today’s dream does come true.

Ellison is at his most relaxed when stood by Definitly Red’s stable being nuzzled by a horse who will be hard to replace when he retires.

“He’s brilliant. He loves people and he loves the cameras. He does know he’s good but he likes competition,” adds the trainer. “I couldn’t be happier.”

DEFINITLY RED takes his name from his sire, Definite Article, and dam The Red Wench.

The unusual spelling is down to a small error when being registered by his point-to-point handler, Bryan Marshall, in Ireland.

The 12-year-old won three races for Lincolnshire trainer Steve Gollings before joining Brian Ellison’s Malton stables in November, 2013.

The winner of 15 out of 37 races, Definitly Red was pulled up in the 2017 National and has run in two Cheltenham Gold Cups. He has four Grade Two wins to his name, including Wetherby’s 2018 Charlie Hall Chase.

He carries the colours of Sheffield-born Phil Martin, a retired businessman who lives at Tickhill, south of Doncaster. Having always promised himself a racehorse if he became successful in business, he now has many horses in training with wife Julie.

This is Henry Brooke’s eighth National ride. He has completed the course just twice when Across The Bay was 14th in 2013 and 2014.

Ellison’s previous National runner saw Neptune Equester, ridden by Felix de Giles, finish 13th to Neptune Collonges in 2012.

Yorkshire’s last National winner was Sue and Harvey Smith’s Auroras Encore in 2013 for jockey Ryan Mania.

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