The ever bullish Malton trainer says there were legitimate reasons for the horse’s fourth place finish behind National ante-post favourite Cloth Cap in Kelso’s Premier Chase last Saturday.
Yet he says the manner in which Phil and Julie Martin’s veteran 12-year-old chaser was staying on at the end of the two mile, seven furlong race gives him confidence that Aintree’s four and a quarter mile test will bring out further improvement in Yorkshire’s sole contender in this year’s National. Ellison also confirmed that Henry Brooke, who was in the saddle on Saturday, will again be at Aintree in the wake of regular rider Danny Cook suffering a career-threatening eye injury last November.
Just back from a serious neck injury sustained in a gallops fall last year, Brooke rode Definitly Red to victory in the 2016 Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby and again for the horse’s fourth-place finish in the 2019 Becher Chase over the iconic National obstacles.
It was this run that explains Definitly Red, the winner of 15 out of 37 career starts, has been allocated 11st 1lb for the National – a high mark for a popular horse approaching the end of a redoubtable career that has yielded four Grade Two wins.
But it also gives Ellison grounds for optimism. In the Becher Chase, Definitly Red shouldered 11st 10lb and was conceding 20lb to Kimberlite Candy, who was second that day to the now retired Walk In The Mill.
In the National, the weight differential between the two horses will be as little as 5lb. “I don’t understand why he’s 16-1 and ‘Red’ is 66-1,” Ellison told The Yorkshire Post.
“Red’s fine. I was over the moon (after Kelso). I think he has a hell of a chance in the National when you look at the form with Kimberlite Candy.”
The trainer says the Kelso run was all the more significant because Definitly Red had been suffering with a mouth abscess that led to a large tooth having to be extracted a month ago. That, he says, held up the horse’s preparations for the Premier Chase which he won in 2020 before Covid forced the National to be called off.
Furthermore, he says the extended four mile-plus trip at Merseyside will play to the strengths of his stable stalwart. “He’s crying out for a trip these days,” stressed Ellison. “He’s not as quick as he once was.
“He jumped well at Kelso and he kept galloping to the line – I couldn’t have asked for more. The winner (Cloth Cap) was very good but will be able to make all in the National and will he go too quick?
“I’m happy, We lost a couple of weeks with the tooth and I’m confident I can get ‘Red’ to Aintree in the best possible shape. That’s the race that matters.”
What Ellison will be hoping for is luck – both with the build-up to the April 10 renewal and in the race itself after Definitly Red had to be pulled up in 2017 when his jockey’s saddle slipped during a melee at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit. But his optimism was discernible. “I couldn’t be happier,” he added.
Meanwhile, Felix de Giles, who was 13th on the Ellison-trained Neptune Equester in the 2012 National, is hoping the sacrifice of having to go into quarantine to ride Easysland in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase will be rewarded with victory at the Cheltenham Festival next week.
De Giles, who has been based in France for the last five years, is delighted to have picked up the plum mount, although it does mean he has to serve five days in quarantine both sides of the race.
The seven-year-old, trained by David Cottin owned by JP McManus, is favourite to repeat last year’s emphatic victory when he put paid to Tiger Roll’s bid to take the race for the third year running, beating the dual Grand National hero by 17 lengths.
GRAND National hope Bellshill has been put down after suffering a fatal injury on the gallops at Sandy Thomson’s stables.
The horse, previously trained by Willie Mullins, had been acquired by golfer Lee Westwood and businessman Dave Armstrong last year. They also acquired Yorkhill, who won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle under Ryan Mania before being retired.
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