Tonto's Pontefract date

TODAY'S season-opening meeting at Pontefract has been rewarded with the presence of Top Notch Tonto, one of Yorkshire's most popular Flat horses.

Top Notch Tonto

The evergreen seven-year-old, with distinctive white marks, is the headline act in the £25,000 handicap over 10 furlongs as the racecourse prepares to unveil its new £500,000 parade ring, and entrance for racegoers, following another winter of improvements at the innovative track.

Owned by Hull’s Keith Brown, and trained at Malton by Brian Ellison, Top Notch Tonto – second in Ascot’s prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Stakes in 2013 – was running a big race in Doncaster’s Betway Lincoln last month before swallowing his tongue.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“He collapsed in a heap and swallowed his tongue,” Brown told The Yorkshire Post ahead of his horse’s 45th career start. “We’ve got a tongue tie and hopefully that will make a difference.

“We could do with the ground being softer. If you wait for the ground, you wait forever. He was only beaten five lengths in the Lincoln. Horses can’t talk, that’s the problem, but we think he’s in great order. The ground is against him but he will like the stiff uphill finish.”

A seventh career victory would provide small compensation for the aforementioned Ellison after a soul-searching day at Aintree on Randox Health Grand National day that left him cursing his luck.

When the Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue stumbled and fell after the final fence in the Grade One novice chase, it left Ellison’s Forest Bihan clear with the winning post in sight.

The Yorkshire trainer thought this might be his elusive first success at the highest level, but Forest Bihan idled in front – the horse has always had to be produced late – and was overhauled by the rallying San Benedeto. Just a head separated the two protagonists as they flashed passed the post.

That said, Ellison believes the horse has the scope to develop into a top class two mile steeplechaser next season.

To compound matters, Definitly Red was then badly hampered at Becher’s Brook at the Grand National when The Young Master fell. Even though jockey Danny Cook managed to take evasive action, his saddle slipped and he had no choice but to pull the horse up two fences later.

Given that Definitly Red will have to carry an extra 10lb next year as a result of his runaway victory in Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chase after the National weights had been published, Ellison and owner Phil Martin, from Tickhill, now have their sights set on the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

“He’s fine, he was just unlucky,” said a phlegmatic Ellison. “He jumped well to Bechers and jumped that well but The Young Master fell in front of him and unfortunately he was straight behind him.

“He went over the top, Danny went up in the air and as he came down, the saddle went under his belly and then he couldn’t pull him up and jumped the next fence with no saddle.”

Ellison hopes the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby could be the springboard towards a Gold Cup bid. “We have all the hype about winning the National and it would be great to win but the main thing is I’ve got a horse for next year to go to war with,” he added. “Hopefully he might be a Gold Cup horse, we’ll see. He will run in good races next year.

“He was 10lb well in this year’s National and next year he’ll be 10lb wrong – that’s why we went, because we were so well in. He’s rated 159 and is only 10lb off Gold Cup class, he’s improved 19lb this year and could improve again next year.”