The recent treble at Kelso came as a timely boost for Brian Ellison, as the new National Hunt season starts in earnest.
The dual-purpose trainer from Malton in Yorkshire has a strong team assembled for the latest Jumps campaign, with Forest Bihan a potential stable star.
The six-year-old had a novice chase campaign full of promise. He only failed by a head to land a Grade One success at Aintree, having already ran-up a trio of victories at Towcester, Newcastle and most impressively at Doncaster.
Speaking of his exciting chaser after the latest success, Ellison said: “He was very good at Kelso. He had been working well, but it is always difficult giving weight away to good horses. He was brilliant with his jumping and he never missed a beat. We picked the race out a while ago and now we have to look at what we do next. We are looking at the Haldon Gold Cup and the Shloer Chase. I will have a word with Phil Martin and see what he wants to do. I don't see any reason why we would want to go up in trip as he is fast enough for two.”
Having spent a little time watching his previous races, I’m of the opinion that Forest Bihan would benefit from some sort of headgear. He certainly has a tendency to cock his head and have a look around, once in front. He should have won at Aintree but was chinned on the line by San Benedeto. And his best performance came at Doncaster, when delivered late to sprint past Cloudy Dream.
The Grade Two Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter looks a sensible option, having been won in recent times by those just below the elite two-mile chasers. It’s difficult to envisage Forest Bihan getting the better of Altior or Douvan, though such challenges lie ahead.
Ellison is based at Spring Cottage Stables, in Malton, and continues to transform the yard. Training since 1989, he’s now been at Malton for almost 20 years. The yard has expanded from just 25 stables to nearer 125 in that time. The addition of a Water Walker in 2014 has proved hugely beneficial, especially with fragile horses. Exercising five horses at a time, the water levels can be adjusted, aiding the recovery of those with back or leg injuries.
Trainers at Malton are fortunate to have fabulous facilities close to hand. The gallops at Langton Wold are some of the finest in the UK. Covering an area of around 120 acres, there is a six-furlong polytrack gallop and one at a mile and three-furlongs. There are also three grass gallops at five-furlong, six-furlong and a mile and two. Terrific schooling grounds include standard fences and two Grand National fences, along with flights of hurdles and starting stalls.
Such facilities inevitably aid the process of producing talented racehorses. And Ellison has several that he would hope will be capable of winning at a decent level over the coming months.
Apterix is a young chaser with plenty more to offer. A three-time winner last winter, the seven-year-old is effective up to two-and-a-half miles. He needs a little give in the ground to be seen at his best. With a chase mark in the low 140s, he’ll be winning again soon.
Many at Spring Cottage carry the familiar silks of PJ Martin. Ellison’s leading patron would have been hopeful of Grand National glory with Definitly Red last April. Unfortunately, the gutsy chaser suffered interference early and had to be pulled up. The trainer states another crack at Aintree is not in the plans, and the horse may start back at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall. It’s a track he enjoys, and in testing conditions he is a match for most staying chasers. He remains on a decent handicap mark.
Seamour is another under the same ownership, though better known for his exploits on the flat. Set for a campaign over timber, he was a classy juvenile back in 2014, when winning both starts, including an impressive success over Pain Au Chocolat. He’s rated 131, which looks generous for a 101 Flat performer. A stiff two miles may be fine, but he’ll certainly stay a lot further. He’s an intriguing proposition and should be followed closely.
Fit from a couple of runs on the flat, Nietzsche is expected to go for the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November. He was third in the Fred Winter at the Festival in March, and is an exciting prospect for handicap hurdles at two-miles. Ellison insists that the horse needs soft ground to be at his best.
Contre Tous is an interesting newcomer, having transferred from Paul Nicholls’ yard. By the same sire as Forest Bihan, he’s a substantial unit and should make a decent chaser in the long-term. The five-year-old remains something of a baby, and though the trainer says he’ll start out over hurdles, his future surely lies over the larger obstacles. He probably needs to strengthen into that substantial frame, so expect plenty of improvement with time.
The yard has another exciting prospect in young hurdler Ravenhill Road. The six-year-old is a favourite of Ellison’s and will head over obstacles having won both his bumpers. He missed the latter part of last season due to injury, but is back fit and well. A big horse, he’s by Exit To Nowhere out of a Zaffaran mare, and the pedigree suggests he’ll appreciate testing ground. The trainer has picked him out as a horse to follow this winter.
Finally, I’m convinced that Zaidiyn remains a handicap hurdler to follow. Injured last winter, he needs a strongly run two miles on soft ground. He’s a hold-up horse, and as such needs things to fall just right. Nevertheless, I’m sure there’s a big prize in him.
I’m anticipating a strong campaign for Brian Ellison and his Malton team. Forest Bihan looks the headline act, but the supporting cast are far from shabby.