Ellison sets sights on Greatwood glory with Cormier

Brian Ellison is hoping Cormier can deliver a second slice of Greatwood Hurdle glory for him and owner Dan Gilbert.

Two years ago, Nietzsche got the eyecatching blue-checked colours home in front a neck ahead of subsequent Champion Hurdle third Silver Streak in the big Unibet-sponsored handicap at Cheltenham.

A repeat plan is in the making as Ellison prepares to send promising four-year-old Cormier south from his Malton base, on the back of successive maiden and novice victories, to try to star again at the weekend on Gilbert’s doorstep.

Owner and trainer will be on weather watch first, though, as Ellison warns Cormier does not want a protracted dry spell before the big race on Sunday.

“The plan is to run (in the Greatwood) at the moment,” he said.

“Ideally we’d like a bit of soft ground for him, but that’s the plan.

“He’s definitely a better horse on soft ground.”

Cormier’s CV to date is similar to Nietzsche’s, in that both were active on the Flat before going jumping.

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The 2018 Greatwood winner had a higher rating on the Flat, but Cormier’s improvement over hurdles has been significant.

“He’s won twice and actually never came off the bridle either time,” said Ellison.

“It’s surprised us a bit how good he is, considering he’s only a 50-rated handicapper on the Flat.

“But he’s definitely on the up and improving.

“Whether he’s got the experience at the moment to go in the Greatwood is another thing.”

Cormier will be given an alternative assignment with an entry too in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Sharp Novices’ Hurdle – but the Greatwood is the preferred prize.

“He’s also going to get entered for the two-mile novice as well,” added Ellison.

“Dan lives there – just over the road from Cheltenham.

“So it’s always been a big thing to have a winner at Cheltenham, and Nietzsche was his first there.

“He’s a good owner who puts a lot of money into it, and is great to train for.”

Ellison may be doubly represented on Sunday – depending how Forest Bihan performs in a gallop at Carlisle on Monday as he prepares for a possible first run in more than a year in the Shloer Cheltenham Chase.

The nine-year-old has been off the track with an injury since winning the Old Roan at Aintree last October, and Ellison is determined not to rush him – with a sound surface very much preferable, in his case.

“He’s going to Carlisle on Monday for a spin, after racing, and we’ll take it after there,” he said.

“(Owner) Phil (Martin) is not in any rush, (but) if the race cuts up we might go there.

“If not, we’ll just wait on something else. If he doesn’t go there, it will be something at the end of the month.

“He’s (still) fast enough for two miles – he’s a pretty quick horse, and he wants nice ground.”

Whatever the final plans for Ellison’s November team at Cheltenham, regular rider Danny Cook will not be in action yet as he continues his recovery from a fractured eye-socket sustained in a fall at Market Rasen last month.

He needed more than 50 stitches to his face, and will need a little longer before he returns.

Ellison can, however, call on champion jockey Brian Hughes for Forest Bihan and perhaps Nietzsche’s Greatwood-winning partner Danny McMenamin for Cormier.

“I think Danny will be another couple of weeks,” he said.

“Brian Hughes rides Forest if he runs. I don’t know yet with Cormier, but I think Danny McMenamin might ride him.”

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