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Definitly Red runs riot on emotional day at Cheltenham

Definitly Red landed the Cotswold Chase on Saturday, leaving trainer Brian Ellison dreaming of Gold Cup glory.

Revelling in testing conditions, the nine-year-old stormed up the famous hill for an eight-length victory. Harry Fry’s young chaser American had travelled powerfully throughout and heading downhill looked to be going best of all. Bristol De Mai and Definitly Red challenged from three-out, but by the second-last Ellison’s charge had taken command. American rallied as Bristol De Mai began to paddle, but there was no catching the winner. The Last Samuri closed on the front three as the line approached, though at no point looked like landing a serious blow.

“That was brilliant,” said Ellison after the victory. “He's class, isn't he? Danny gave him a great ride, he gets on great with him. He’s probably one of the best jockeys riding. He had to use his head down the back.”

The trainer was winning at the course for the first time in 16 years and added: “I thought the other horse (American) was going better, but Danny took a pull to lie a couple of lengths off him and when he gave him a kick in the belly he took off. He's just got better every year and the plan this year was to keep him fresh. Today would tell us if we went for the Gold Cup, so we'll go now.”

Cook can now look forward to a first ride in the festival showpiece. He said of the winner: “He stayed on really well. He got a bit lonely in front and had a good look. This horse is going from strength to strength, he gave me a nice feel today.”

On an emotional day at Prestbury Park, the jockey added: “I'd like to dedicate that to my grandad, who is not very well, we don't know how much longer he's got, he said he'd love to see me ride a winner at Cheltenham and he has.”

Bristol De Mai failed to shine and is simply not the same horse away from Haydock. Nigel Twiston-Davies said: “I'm disappointed, what else can I say? Something might come of it.”

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Anthony Bromley is the racing manager for BDM’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. He said of the disappointing performance: “We've asked him a few questions and we've found them out. We came here hopeful, but it doesn't look like we've got a Gold Cup horse on that run. He will get an entry to the Grand National on Tuesday, and it might be the National more than the Gold Cup.”

Harry Fry’s American ran a cracker, and the trainer was full of praise, saying: “It was a huge run, I'm absolutely delighted. I was thinking 'here we go again' (when started slowly) but he warmed to the task and relished the conditions. He jumped his way to the front and for a long way I thought he was going to do it. He didn't have a proper run in the Ladbrokes Trophy and maybe that cost us. It was a huge run. He's not in the Gold Cup, but if conditions come up like that we might have to think about supplementing him.”

In my piece on Friday, I’d plumped for The Last Samuri, but Kim Bailey’s gutsy stayer was never going quick enough to land a serious blow. He stayed on well to finish a close fourth and his trainer seemed happy enough, saying: “He’s never been to Cheltenham before, and better ground would have suited him today. He’s run a proper Grand National trial and all he was doing was staying at the end. He’ll go straight from here to Aintree and fingers crossed he’ll have a great chance.”

The Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle shared main billing and much of the lead-up centred on the tragic death of Richard Woollacott. The young trainer succumbed to mental health issues earlier in the week and Cheltenham Racecourse paid tribute to him with a minute’s silence during the meeting. Beer Goggles had given him his greatest day on the track when taking the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in December. He was fancied to go close again but having set the fractions for much of the contest, faded turning for home before finishing fifth.

It was left to Agrapart and Wholestone to battle-out the finish, with the latter travelling powerfully approaching the last. However, when push came to shove it was Lizzie Kelly’s mount that found more for pressure to win by three-lengths. It looked as though Wholestone failed to see-out the three-mile trip, and if mine, I’d be thinking of a crack at the Coral Cup in March rather than the Stayers’. Agrapart may miss the festival, as testing ground is key to his chances. His trainer Nick Williams said: “We haven't even made an entry for March, the ground is so important. There's a 90 per cent chance the ground won't be soft enough, even soft isn't soft enough for him so he's quite hard to place.”

A thrilled and hugely emotional Lizzie Kelly said of the winner: “This horse has helped shape my career, the owners have been so good to me. I'm delighted their faith in me has paid off. They started using me when I was a 10lb claimer. I love riding this horse, as he tries so hard. He travelled so well, I got to the front too soon. Once this horse gets his head in front he doesn't like being beaten.”

Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls were responsible for other notable performances on the card. Apple’s Shakira landed the Triumph Hurdle Trial, though had to work hard to maintain her perfect record. She found plenty up the stamina sapping hill in ground that was plenty testing enough for the lightly framed filly. She remains favourite for a hot renewal in March.

Seven Barrows was also responsible for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle victor Santini. He battled bravely in conditions that clearly didn’t suit, to get up very late and deny the Tom George-trained Black Op. The pair pulled miles clear of a decent field and the winner is now around 10s for both the Ballymore and the Albert Bartlett in March. He’s a stunning individual who should progress into a smashing chaser.

It also proved to be another great day for young Bryony Frost. She rode the Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon to a stunning success in a competitive looking Grade Three handicap chase. From the second-last to the line the fast improving six-year-old put 17-lengths between himself and the field. Shantou Flyer came off second best for another outstanding claimer in James Bowen. The pair of young jockeys are making quite a name for themselves.

As for the winning horse, he’s likely to head for the Ryanair at The Festival. Should conditions be in his favour (best in testing ground) he’d be a fair each-way proposition.

Magnificent Martaline – A Leading French Stallion

The career of talented chaser Dynaste came to an end at the weekend, following a slightly disappointing run in the Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Sandown.

The popular 11-year-old grey had been one of David Pipe’s stable stars for almost half a dozen years. The racecourse highlight came when winning the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2014. He followed that performance with a second-place finish in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree, and later that year was runner-up to Silviniaco Conti in the King George at Kempton.

Though an attractive looking grey, Dynaste could not compete in the looks department with his talented father Martaline. The truly gorgeous French stallion is virtually white from nose to tail. A strikingly powerful colt, he stands at Haras De Montaigu, a beautifully picturesque stud in North-West France.

A classy horse on the flat, Martaline was at his best as a four-year-old in 2003, when runner-up in the Group 2 Grand Prix De Chantilly before winning the Prix Maurice De Nieuil at Longchamp. That victory came at 1m6f, when he defeated an outstanding stayer in Westerner. He was victorious or placed in 12 of his 22 career starts. It’s also interesting to note, that his most disappointing performances came on heavy ground.

As a leading French National Hunt stallion in recent years, he has produced numerous talented jumpers for trainers on both sides of the English Channel.

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Agrapart was a high-profile success for the French sire recently, when taking the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Trained by Nick Williams, the six-year-old clearly thrived in testing conditions, when getting up late to beat L’Ami Serge, with Cole Harden seven lengths back in third. He’s likely to head for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, though he looks a chaser in the making, and certainly has the action over hurdles to suggest that he’ll suit a fence.

Another with a Cheltenham success to his name this season, is the Colin Tizzard trained Viconte Du Noyer. Owned by the Potts’, he’d previously been trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead, and was winning the Grade 3 Betvictor Handicap Chase on his first run for the new yard. He failed to take to the Grand National fences next time at Aintree and then ran below par in testing ground at the Welsh National. His win at Cheltenham suggested there’s plenty more to come, so I wouldn’t be losing faith in this fella. Better ground may well be essential, and he’s worth a second luck with conditions to suit.

One from the bloodline that does enjoy Aintree’s National fences, is the Gordon Elliott trained Ucello Conti. He was fourth in the Becher Chase in December, having been sixth in the Grand National last April. It’s tough to say whether he truly stayed the trip that day on soft ground, but he’s likely to be back for another crack this year, and on a more attractive looking handicap mark.

Noel Meade also looks to have a talented chaser on his hands with the six-year-old grey gelding Disko. He seemed to appreciate better ground when running a cracker at Leopardstown over Christmas. His third-place finish in the Grade 1 three-mile novice chase was a personal best, and he’d be a live contender at Cheltenham in March, for either the JLT or the RSA. He’s not short of speed. Meade’s last Cheltenham Festival winner was another son of Martaline, with Very Wood landing the Albert Bartlett of 2014 at huge odds.

Another from the Martaline production line, who is rapidly going the right way, is Tim Vaughan’s hurdler, Theligny. Despite four victories and three second place finishes from his eight outings over hurdles, the six-year-old remains on a fair handicap mark. He was impressive at Newbury last time, when showing a terrific attitude in holding off the Rebecca Curtis trained Geordie Des Champs. That came at two and a half miles, and the target may well be the Martin Pipe Conditional at The Festival, with classy claimer Alan Johns likely to be on-board.

As an 18-year-old, Martaline continues to prove an extremely popular stallion. A strike-rate of 31% this season for his offspring, shows just how potent he is. It would be no surprise to see many more of his progeny travelling across the Channel in the coming years.

Williams Welcomes A Brighter Spell

Williams Chasing Winners

Williams Chasing Winners

Victories for Tea For Two and Aubusson have sparked life into a hitherto lacklustre campaign for Nick Williams.

The Devon handler has now crept to six winners from 51 starts at a strike rate of 10%. Last season gleaned just 13 wins from 113 runs compared to the previous five winters which saw the Williams yard hit virtually twice that figure on each occasion. In the 2009/10 campaign total prize money touched half a million, whilst last year it dropped below £300,000 and so far this winter sits at less than £80,000.

Added to this, during the summer the stable lost one of its exciting youngsters, when Fox Norton moved to Neil Mulholland’s yard. To rub salt into the wounds, the five-year-old has taken to fences, like a duck to water and is already two from three over the larger obstacles.

It sounds like an almighty tale of woe, but to be fair to Williams and his team, fortunes can quickly turn in his favour. The yard only has around 25 horses in training, a manageable quantity for Culverhill Farm. It therefore follows that should the trainer nurture a star or two, the slightly disappointing stats can very quickly look a whole lot healthier.

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Reve De Sivola has certainly been one such star over the past half dozen years. He may be fast approaching ‘senior citizen’ status, but on the evidence of his run at Auteuil last month, he looks to retain plenty of ability. In just over a week’s time he makes his regular pilgrimage to Ascot to contest the Long Walk Hurdle. It’s a race that he has dominated in recent years, with three consecutive victories. There’s every chance that he can make it four on the bounce, especially if the ground rides testing.

Last Friday at Exeter Tea For Two made his much anticipated switch to fences. A classy hurdler, he always looked to have the stature that suggested chasing would be more his game. Nevertheless, few could have anticipated such a stunning debut. He travelled through the race with ease and was wonderfully slick over his obstacles. He recorded a thumping 10 length success despite being eased right down in the latter stages. Paul Nicholls’ Calipto was back in third and the Philip Hobbs trained Golden Doyen out of sight in fourth. It was a truly cracking performance.

Though Aubusson’s win at Uttoxeter yesterday was somewhat less impressive, it was still a dominant performance. He’s another huge beast who appears to need testing conditions to be at his best. In time you could certainly see him becoming a Welsh National type. However, I’d be surprised if he progresses as quickly as Tea For Two, and he looks more of a long term project.

On Saturday the yard also celebrated a stunning win for the four-year-old novice hurdler Agrapart. The son of Martaline is yet another who coped best with testing ground conditions. He trounced the opposition by 20 lengths with Lizzie Kelly on board barely moving a muscle. Heavy ground form can be misleading at times, but he undoubtedly looks a tasty prospect.

It’s fair to say that Williams and his team are stirring from their recent slumber. The outlook for the Devon handler suddenly looks a whole lot brighter.