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Ellison eyeing top staying prizes for Ascot second Tashkhan

Brian Ellison’s Tashkhan will aim to continue his rise to the top of the staying division after his valiant performance when runner up in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Saturday.

Ellison, a dual-purpose trainer, had intentions of ultimately going hurdling with Tashkhan, but a handful of runs in handicap company on the Flat saw him improve markedly and begin to pick up valuable races.

His handicapping form reached a peak when he took home over £50,000 when winning at Haydock in July, and by early October he was making his Group-race debut in the Prix Chaudenay at ParisLongchamp.

Fifth that day, the gelding was far from out of his depth having started at 35-1 under Ben Robinson.

Ascot’s Long Distance Cup was another foray into Group Two company and this time Tashkhan was sent off at 50-1, odds he completely defied when chasing home evens favourite Trueshan to finish second – beating the great Stradivarius into third in the process.

“He ran really well,” Ellison said.

“He’s done nothing but continue to improve with every run he’s had – this year he’s improved massively.

“He won off 57 at the start of the year with Emmet Mullins then we bought him after that.

“We bought him to go hurdling but he never stopped improving, I don’t think he’ll be going hurdling now!

“He was fantastic, absolutely brilliant.

“The owner is over the moon, he was there with all his family yesterday. I must say that the jockey gave him a great ride as well, Ben is underrated.”

The son of Born To Sea will now be given a break over the winter with the key staying races, such as the Gold Cup at Ascot, on his agenda next term.

Ellison added: “He’s going to have a holiday, he’s turned up in every race he’s run in and he’s run some great races this year.

“He’s picked up £180,000 (this season), Saturday was probably his best run, next year we’ll plan for the Gold Cup and races like that.

“He’s a lovely horse to have and nice horse to train, he causes us no problems. He’s as tough as boots and he’s come out of the race very well this morning.”

Tashkhan claims valuable handicap prize at Haydock

Brian Ellison was delighted see Tashkhan claim a second win at Haydock this season with a decisive display in the £100,000 bet365 Handicap.

Bought privately from Irish trainer Emmet Mullins after winning at Navan in the spring, the three-year-old has already proved a shrewd purchase for his new connections.

A winner on Merseyside in May, the son of Born To Sea could only finish ninth in the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot last month, but looked far more comfortable back on rain-softened ground.

Ridden by 5lb claimer Harry Russell, the 16-5 chance moved moved pulled a length and a half clear of Summer’s Knight to leave his trainer considering an appearance at next month’s Ebor Festival at York.

Ellison said: “He loves that ground. We went to Ascot and we didn’t really want to run him, but decided to let him take his chance.

“He’s a proper horse. He won for Emmet Mullins off a mark in the 50s and we asked him if he was for sale and he said he was.

“I can see why he sold him because he shows absolutely nothing at home, but I love those type of horses that do it on the track.

“He’s in the John Smith’s Cup, but we’ll probably wait and look at the Melrose.

“I don’t think he’ll go anywhere unless there’s juice in the ground, though.”

Young Fire notched his third course and distance success in the Each Way Extra At bet365 Handicap.

The six-year-old had previously won back-to-back renewals of the same September handicap for trainer David O’Meara and returned with sound claims following successive placed efforts.

With morning rain turning conditions in his favour, 15-2 chance Young Fire finished with a flourish under a well-timed ride from Danny Tudhope to get up and beat Gifted Ruler by three-quarters of a length.

“That (soft) ground is a big plus for him – these are his conditions,” said the jockey.

“He ran off 96 today, which is his last winning mark. He’s a fair horse on his day and has been running well this year without winning.

“He’s a tricky horse who needs things to fall right. He needs them to go quick, likes to come through horses and not get there too soon – I’m glad he’s gone and done it today.”

Cashew in the Haydock winner's enclosure
Cashew in the Haydock winner’s enclosure (Ashley Iveson/PA)

Cashew (100-30) provided trainer George Boughey with his 19th two-year-old winner of the season in the bet365 Nursery.

Successful at Windsor in May before finishing second on her latest outing at Salisbury, the daughter of Bated Breath got back on the winning trail under Mark Crehan.

Boughey said: “She’s a very tough filly who likes that ground – when she won at Windsor it was almost unraceable.

“Hopefully she can win a few more.”

Four non-runners meant just three sprinters went to post for the bet365 Conditions Stakes – and it was Mick Appleby’s admirable veteran Danzeno (15-8) who claimed top honours with a neck verdict over 11-10 favourite Lampang.

Mighty performance could keep Scottish National at home

Lucinda Russell relies principally on the improving Mighty Thunder as she supplies two of the nine contenders bidding to keep the Scottish Grand National at home.

The big Ayr prize has headed south of the border in each of the seven renewals since Merigo posted his second success in the space of three years for Scotland in 2012.

It was a significantly longer wait before then for the home contingent too, but Scottish trainers have collectively readied a team which can have high hopes on Sunday of resisting the big-gun travellers.

Russell’s Big River will accompany his stablemate, while Harriet Graham’s Aye Right is likely to start favourite – and Sandy Thomson’s duo of Dingo Dollar and The Ferry Master, Nick Alexander’s top-weight Lake View Lad, Sandy Forster’s Claud And Goldie and Iain Jardine’s Cool Mix and Dino Boy join the gathering of the clans in the 22-runner marathon.

Russell, who admits to concerns about forecast good ground for Big River, has a more obvious chance with Mighty Thunder – already winner of the Edinburgh National and second in the Midlands version this season.

“He’s a very straightforward horse, still only a novice chaser – but I’d like to think we’ve taught him well at home,” she said of the eight-year-old

“We gave him an extra season over hurdles, because his jumping wasn’t that brilliant, and I think that’s benefited him.

“He hasn’t run that often, but he’s certainly taking himself to the heights.”

Russell – who claimed the Aintree National in 2017 with One For Arthur – is hoping Mighty Thunder, who will be ridden by Tom Scudamore in place of the injured Blair Campbell, can continue to provide a glimpse of a brightening future.

She added: “He’s another exciting young horse for us, and I think that’s what we’re having to base our hopes and dreams on – these young horses coming through now and producing properly.

“I wouldn’t want it to be good to firm, because I think he’s a nice horse for the future. But he’s a little bit more flexible (than Big River), in terms he’ll go on good ground as well.”

Among the very credible raiding party is Paul Nicholls’ Soldier Of Love, Brian Ellison’s Eider Chase hero Sam’s Adventure and Notachance from Alan King’s yard.

Some Chaos is another notable opponent for the Russell yard.

The 10-year-old is trained by Michael Scudamore – son of Peter, who is Russell’s partner and assistant.

“He’s in great form,” said the Herefordshire handler.

Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell will be cheering for the home contingent on Sunday
Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell will be cheering for the home contingent on Sunday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We tried him over hurdles the last couple of times, but he’s not the same horse doing that.

“Hopefully his last run will have blown away the cobwebs for Sunday.”

Graham, meanwhile, is hoping Aye Right can make light of his big weight, prove himself at the marathon trip and gain overdue reward for his admirable but winless season.

“He has been so consistent, and he would be a deserving winner,” said the Jedburgh trainer.

“It would be really special for the owners Geoff and Elspeth (Adam), who are the ones who invested him as a three-year-old and have been very loyal to me and loyal to (jockey) Callum (Bewley).

“They are proper Scottish owners, keeping those horses trained in Scotland – and that’s what we need people to be doing up here.

“We don’t want them sending them to Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. We want good Scottish horses trained in Scotland – and it would be great, very deserving for the horse, and we’d be just totally made up.”

Graham is mindful of another tough task, but confident Aye Right is in fine form.

“We’re all ready to go and excited about it,” she added.

“He’s very well, and I think the ground will be right for him.

“It would have been lovely to be going off 10st 12lb, rather than 11st 11lb – that would be my only negative.

“He does like Ayr – he’s won there twice. Obviously there is a question mark about him staying, but we feel he will – he certainly finishes his races the way he starts them, he seems to me to warm up.

“He’s got that lovely galloping rhythm that makes you think he should stay. That’s the whole reason for stepping him up to nearly four miles.

“But that question will be answered on Sunday.”

Bewley returns, having had to miss Aye Right’s placed effort at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

“Callum knows him really well – it’s just twice he hasn’t ridden him (in 23 career starts),” said Graham.

“Obviously that’s an advantage.

“The Cheltenham race became quite messy. It didn’t go to plan for us, and he was in among the bunch with people jumping into him – and I think that just shows how tough he was, because he still ran on at the end.

“He is a really tough horse – whereas lots of horses might have got upset about that and stopped.

“We’re hopeful, but we’re realistic as well. It’s a long way and unknown territory.

“There’s a lot of nice horses in the race off lower weights, and there’s an argument for the lot of them – those ones carrying two stones less.

“There’s lots that have every right to win the race – but unless we are there, we’re not going to, so we’re giving it a go.”

Sam’s Adventure is another obvious threat, following his dour victory at Newcastle – but his trainer admits softer ground would have been preferable.

“Good to soft will be fine,” said Ellison.

“He would have won one day on good to soft at Kelso (in a novice hurdle won by Mighty Thunder), but he ducked out at the last.

“Basically, the horse is so well in himself. So we said we’d go for the Scottish National.

“The Midlands National probably just came a bit too quick after Newcastle. But he’s in great form – I couldn’t be happier with him. It’s just the ground (worry) obviously.

“That is an issue. He hasn’t had many chances on that kind of ground, because we’ve always thought he wanted it soft, heavy – which he does. He loves it.

“His form going into the race is great.”

The well-fancied Dingo Dollar was also a Newcastle winner, on stable debut for Thomson last month.

The Berwickshire trainer said: “This was the plan before Newcastle.

“It was always the plan to have a run, and hope it would be good enough, and then he would run in the Scottish National.

“He was favourite two years ago, I think (when with Alan King), but they didn’t run because of the firm ground.

“It should be all right this time, though.

“Unless you’ve run in a National, there’s very few horses that have run over this trip. But you would have to say he looks like he’ll stay all right.

“He’s obviously run some nice races, and I always knew what the plan was (when he arrived) – and fortunately so far, it’s coming to fruition.”

Champion jockey Brian Hughes will ride Dingo Dollar, with Sean Quinlan on The Ferry Master.

Thomson said of the latter: “There’s probably more of a question mark about him staying.

“But I thought we’d go at this stage of his career – because if he obviously doesn’t stay, then we will know that’s not where he’ll be campaigned, and be at three miles (instead).”

Nietzsche continues to do Ellison proud with Ayr victory

Brian Ellison was delighted to see Nietzsche bag his biggest victory over fences to date with battling performance in the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase at Ayr.

Winner of the 2018 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, the eight-year-old had been running consistently well in competitive handicap chases all season, most recently finishing eighth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Ridden by Johnny Burke, Nietzsche was a 6-1 shot for the Listed feature on the opening day of the Scottish Grand National meeting – and after taking over from Voix Du Reve on the run-in, had just enough in reserve to repel 15-8 favourite Not That Fuisse by a neck.

“He’s a star,” said Ellison.

“He’s won four races on the Flat, he’s won a Greatwood Hurdle and was third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham (in 2017). He probably would have won that day if he didn’t hit the front too early.

“He ran at the Festival last time and was third at Cheltenham before that. He’s a good horse.

“Johnny gave him a good ride. He wanted to get there after the last and that’s what he did.”

While out of luck with Not That Fuisse, Harry Skelton extended his lead in the race to be crowned champion jockey to four courtesy of a first- and last-race double.

The rider teamed up with brother Dan to win both the Tennent’s Lager Novices’ Hurdle with 4-9 favourite Stepney Causeway, and the Book Your Staycation At Western House Hotel Handicap Hurdle with 11-2 chance I’d Better Go Now.

Stepney Causeway was winning his fourth successive race over obstacles when scoring by 19 lengths in the opener, but could be set for a return to the Flat.

His trainer said: “He’s a remarkable horse, to be honest. He’s just improving rapidly and it was great to see him do it like that.

“On his first run for us we ran him in soft ground and right-handed and it turned out that’s everything he doesn’t want. We’ve since run him left-handed on better ground and he’s won four.

“He’ll have an entry in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock and he’s also entered in the Chester Cup. He won’t get in the Cup, I don’t think, but he could get in the consolation race (Chester Plate).

“The horse in the last (I’d Better Go Now) is very good fresh and Harry gave him a brilliant ride.”

The brace took Harry Skelton to 143 winners for the season, with reigning champion Brian Hughes on 139 after drawing a blank.

His brother added: “Harry is four clear, but I keep saying it, it’s not enough!”

Both jockeys are in action at Bangor on Saturday before returning to Ayr for Sunday’s Coral Scottish Grand National.

Brian Ellison announces retirement of stable stalwart Definitly Red

Brian Ellison has announced the retirement of stable star Definitly Red after being pulled up in the Randox Grand National at Aintree.

The 12-year-old was running in the world’s most famous steeplechase for a second time, after being badly hampered when still going well in the 2017 renewal.

Definitly Red won 15 of his 38 career starts, including the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree twice, the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.

Ellison posted on his Facebook page: “The decision has been made to retire Definitly Red after his run in yesterday’s Grand National. He pulled up two fences before the finish when getting tired, but delighted to report that he came home safe and sound.

“We, along with owners Phil and Julie Martin, have been honoured to have had such a wonderful horse. He has given us all so much pleasure and owes us nothing.

“We would like to thank everyone who has supported and followed ‘Red’ throughout his career.”

Sam’s Adventure digs deep in Eider

Sam’s Adventure provided local trainer Brian Ellison with a popular win in the Vertem Eider Handicap Chase at Newcastle.

North-east native Ellison, who was born on Northumberland Plate day, had already celebrated one big prize this season with his staying chaser, who won the Tommy Whittle at Haydock.

Unusually run in spring-like conditions this season, it certainly made for an enjoyable contest with half a dozen or more still in with a chance turning for home.

Springfield Fox had made the running, tracked by The Dutchman who was still going well when unseating Sean Quinlan just before the final bend.

Cyclop, previous winner Crosspark and Salty Boy were all in with a chance, but it was Sam’s Adventure and Crossley Tender who pulled clear.

Henry Brooke appeared to have done everything right on Sam’s Adventure, but when he got in tight to the last the 15-2 chance appeared to have thrown it away.

But to his credit Sam’s Adventure battled back and got home by three-quarters of length.

Having shown stamina is not an issue, Sam’s Adventure will have the Grand National as his aim next season – but he will not run again in this campaign.

“I thought we’d lost it at the last, I must admit,” said Ellison.

“Henry actually said it probably helped him as he didn’t want to be in front that long, but he had no option to go when he did.

“He’s been such a good horse for us. That’s his second decent pot this year, he won a decent prize at Uttoxeter last season and also won a valuable bumper at Newbury.

“He didn’t jump hurdles great, but he’s far better over fences, he’s quite clever.

“He won’t run in the Midlands National. He’s on holiday now, he’s done enough this season. The target next year might be the Grand National – if Julie (Martin, joint-owner with her husband, Phil) let’s me!

“He’ll have a nice long break, we’ll start him off about Christmas with the aim of the National, because he’s so laid back it will take him a race to get back into it.”

Ellison came very close to winning the Northumberland Plate in 2016 with Seamour who shot clear but was caught close home by Antiquarium and admitted to having a flashback.

“I could see the other horse still going well, but when we jumped the second-last I thought we’d won. Of course he then blew the last and I thought ‘not again’.

“It’s great for Phil and Julie, though, because one of their other horses, Forest Bihan, was supposed to run today but got injured this morning and that might be it for him, he might not run again.”

Sam’s set for another Adventure at Haydock

Brian Ellison is keen to tackle Saturday’s Peter Marsh Limited Handicap Chase at Haydock with Sam’s Adventure.

Sam’s Adventure won over the same extended three miles and one furlong when claiming last month’s Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase at the track, taking up the lead at the last before going on to score by four lengths.

The nine-year-old triumphed on heavy ground that day and with a wet forecast and possible snow in prospect this week, Ellison is confident his charge will deal with conditions.

He said: “Sam’s Adventure is in good form and the plan is for him to run in the Peter Marsh Chase on Saturday.

“This race has been the target since his last win at Haydock where he was very impressive.

“He stays the trip and handles testing conditions, so we would be hopeful of a good run.

“It looks a competitive race judging by the entries, but you would expect that and we are looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”

Cap Du Nord also features among 18 entries for the race and he could clash again with the 156-rated Royal Pagaille, who beat him by three and a quarter lengths at Kempton last month.

However, trainer Christian Williams is favouring waiting a week with the eight-year-old and heading to Doncaster instead.

He said: “Cap Du Nord is a possible for the Peter Marsh Chase, but I think the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster is our first preference.

“We entered just in case Royale Pagaille doesn’t turn up at Haydock, but we are leaning towards Doncaster.”

The Peter Marsh is one of four Grade Two heats on Saturday’s card, with the New One Unibet Hurdle set to feature the return of dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air.

Only five have been entered for the two-mile heat and Donald McCain could let Navajo Pass, an impressive winner of a Musselburgh handicap on New Year’s Day and fourth in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, take his chance.

He said: “It is very possible that Navajo Pass will run in the New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.

“We’re very limited really in where we can go with him.

“It looks like being a very competitive race with the likes of Buveur D’Air set to run.

“He ran earlier this month so it is quite a quick turnaround, but there is every possibility that he will run.

“It was a good performance at Musselburgh and hopefully there is still plenty more to come from him.”

Sam’s Adventure earns break after Tommy Whittle triumph

Brian Ellison will ensure Sam’s Adventure has time to recover from his Haydock exertions before choosing the Tommy Whittle winner’s next target.

Pulled up on his seasonal reappearance at Carlisle in early November, Sam’s Adventure then fared only marginally better when a well-beaten fifth at Haydock three weeks later.

However, the eight-year-old showed his true colours on his return to Merseyside for Saturday’s Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase, pulling four lengths clear in the hands of champion jockey Brian Hughes.

Ellison was not present for the win, but said on Monday: “I was delighted with him. He did it well and came back to form.

“He was disappointing at Carlisle, but (jockey) Henry (Brooke) said afterwards he doesn’t like going right-handed. Then at Haydock the next day, a couple of horses fell in front of him, and he just walked over them, and it knocked him right out of contention.”

Sam’s Adventure is in fine shape after the weekend, but Ellison is wary of pressing on again too quickly after such a stamina test in heavy ground.

“I’ve not really got anything in mind for him,” the Malton trainer added.

“He seems to have come out of the race fine, but I wouldn’t run him back in a hurry, because these races take a lot out of them.

“He’s been a good horse for us. He won a nice race at Newcastle over hurdles and won a £40,000 chase at Uttoxeter last year.”

Resurgent Sam’s Adventure takes control in Tommy Whittle

Sam’s Adventure bounced back to form with a strong, staying performance to win the Betfair Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase at Haydock.

After two runs last month, Brian Ellison’s eight-year-old was razor sharp for the feature race on the card – and he duly produced the goods.

There was plenty of drama, however, with several horses failing to finish.

Early leader Roll Again was one, unseating his rider and then sadly having to be put down after injuring his spine in a fall while loose.

Crixus’s Escape and Enqarde also exited the race, while Pop Rockstar was twice badly hampered before finishing last.

Held up out of harm’s way by champion jockey Brian Hughes in the early stages of the near three-and-a-quarter-mile event, Sam’s Adventure (14-1) crept into contention in the straight.

The well-fancied Sojourn hit the front at the third-last, but Sam’s Adventure was biding his time.

Produced by Hughes to lead at the final fence, he galloped on resolutely to take the prize by four lengths from Sojourn.

Salty Boy was two and a quarter lengths further back in third, with Highest Sun another length away in fourth place.

The win completed a 149-1 double for Hughes, following his earlier success on Albert’s Back.

“It’s been a great day now. He had a chance on the best of his form,” said the champion jockey.

“He’s a good jumper, stays well – and although he got beaten the last day, he was interfered with down the back here and did well to stand up.

“He’s a horse Brian (Ellison) fancied coming here today – and he was right.

“He’s a big old lad, and it’s probably taken a couple of runs for him to come to hand.

“Brian and his team had him in great shape coming here today, so it’s no surprise to them anyway. It is to me, but not to them, and it’s great to win a race for (owners) Julie and Phil Martin in Julie’s colours. Brilliant.”

Ellison keen on Avenue’s chance of Cheltenham Gold

Brian Ellison is expecting a bold showing from Windsor Avenue in Saturday’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

A dual winner in the bumper sphere and over hurdles, the eight-year-old looked an exciting addition to the chasing ranks last season when impressing in his first two starts at Sedgefield and Carlisle.

He subsequently proved no match for Sam Spinner when chasing the hat-trick at Doncaster, and fell in another Grade Two at Haydock.

However, having undergone wind surgery during the summer, Windsor Avenue made a promising start to the new campaign when runner-up to subsequent Ascot winner Imperial Aura in last month’s Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle.

“He’s come on for Carlisle, I’m really happy with him and the ground doesn’t matter to him,” said Ellison.

“I’ve always thought he was a nice horse. He won his bumpers and novice hurdles and even his hurdles form is quite good – he was second to Rouge Vif one day at Kelso.

“He started off well over fences before things went wrong, but we found out what the problem was and Carlisle was his first run back.

“Looking at the betting, it looks like he’s got a big chance on Saturday.”

Coole Cody on his way to winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup
Coole Cody on his way to winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Evan Williams-trained Coole Cody made much of the running in last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup – and bids to become only the fourth horse to win the two major handicaps in the same season after Pegwell Bay (1988), Senor El Betrutti (1997) and Exotic Dancer (2006).

“The way I look at it, he’s won his race. I do think we’re guilty in this sport of always looking for the next race, instead of just putting your foot on the ball and saying ‘he’s won a Paddy Power Gold Cup, for goodness sake’,” said Williams.

“As far as I’m concerned, everything after that last day is a bonus. There are a handful of races that have got that little bit of something about them and the Paddy Power is one of those, and we’ve managed to win one.

“Whatever Coole Cody does for the rest of his life, he’ll always have a special place in my heart, that’s for sure.”

Top-weight Master Tommytucker is one of three runners for Paul Nicholls, who is bidding for a record sixth victory in the race.

The Ditcheat handler, who also saddles Saint Sonnet and Southfield Stone, told Betfair: “I’m thrilled by the progress Master Tommytucker has had this season after some frustrating issues with his jumping in the past.

“While he was impressive last time at Haydock and will love the soft ground if it rains, this is the first time he has run in a really competitive race with a big field of runners, but he is ready to do so. He is in top order at the moment.

“I was expecting a big run from Saint Sonnet in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but he virtually cut out three from home on desperate ground and was a tired horse when he came down at the last fence.

“It looked very much that he either needed the race more than I thought or didn’t get the trip. On better ground on the New Course, I am hoping for much better – wearing a tongue tie for the first time.

“Southfield Stone loves it round Cheltenham. Although he is a big outsider, he is a consistent racehorse and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him outrun his odds.”

Huntsman Son (right) impressed at Wetherby
Huntsman Son (right) impressed at Wetherby (Tim Goode/PA)

Alex Hales has high hopes for Huntsman Son following an impressive Listed success at Wetherby in October.

He said: “I thought he was very impressive at Wetherby and the handicapper thought the same.

“We’ve been very happy with him since. I suppose the only proviso is he wouldn’t want the ground to go too soft.

“He’s come back from Wetherby as good as ever and I’m really looking forward to running him.”

Irish hopes are carried by the Mick Winters-trained Chatham Street Lad. The last Irish challenger to win this prize was Edward O’Grady’s Go Roger Go in 2000.

“He’s in great form, but we could do with a drop of rain for Saturday,” said Winters.

“As long as there is ease in the ground and the horse comes home safe, that is what matters. We are looking forward to the challenge.

“I wouldn’t know all the form, but all the high-profile trainers have horses in it. There appears to be a lot of horses on the way up and maybe some going downhill.

“Our fella is in great form, he has a grand weight and it’s nice to be heading to Cheltenham. If he runs an honourable race, it would be great.”

Al Dancer is a leading contender
Al Dancer is a leading contender (Tim Goode/PA)

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Paddy Power Gold Cup third Al Dancer, the Venetia Williams-trained Cepage and Romain De Senam from Dan Skelton’s yard are other contenders in a fiercely competitive affair.

Skelton said: “He has got a nice weight and I don’t think the rain will be too much of an issue as it is a fresh track.

“I think he has got a little each-way chance.”

Ellison seeking Caspian Caviar Gold with Windsor Avenue

Brian Ellison is anticipating a big run from Windsor Avenue in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup after the eight-year-old’s encouraging return at Carlisle.

Windsor Avenue began his campaign by finishing a two-and-a-half-length runner-up to the highly-progressive Imperial Aura in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at the start of last month.

He has been allotted an initial weight of 11st 3lb, with Harry Whittington’s Cheltenham Festival winner Simply The Betts and Paul Nicholls’ Master Tommytucker topping the list on 11st 12lb for next week’s big Cheltenham handicap.

Ellison reports Windsor Avenue has benefited from wind surgery, after an early end to his promising novice-chase campaign in January.

The Malton trainer said: “At the moment, Windsor Avenue definitely runs in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.

“He won his first two chases nicely last season, and then he had a problem with his wind.

“We eventually sorted that over the summer – he had a soft palate hobday – and we were very pleased with what saw at Carlisle for a first run back.”

Cheltenham Festival winner Imperial Aura has since taken his successful sequence to three, with a Grade Two triumph at Ascot, and is being touted as a major contender for next year’s Ryanair Chase.

Windsor Avenue received 4lb from his Carlisle conqueror, and Ellison added: “Overall, I thought the Colin Parker looked a good race – and the form seems to be working out that way, given what the winner did at Ascot.

“That run definitely brought our lad on a bit, and it will be interesting to see how gets on in a handicap. Touch wood, his jumping is great, and he won’t be ridden too far away anyway.

“I will be going there expecting a big run, because I think a lot of him – and always have done.”

Among his potential rivals over two and a half miles on December 12, Evan Williams’ shock Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Coole Cody (10st 12lb) may return in search of a famous double.

Kerry Lee’s mare Happy Diva (11st 4lb) was the 2019 Paddy Power winner, and still in contention when falling two out in defence of her crown last month.

Recent Newbury winners Clondaw Castle (11st 10lb) and Caribean Boy (11st 9lb) are also of obvious note – as are Ascot scorers First Flow (11st 9lb) and Espoir De Guye (11st 5lb).

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.

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.”

Mrs Hyde continues swift progression with Wetherby win

Mrs Hyde proved too strong for Grade One-winning mare Verdana Blue in the bet365 Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby.

Nicky Henderson’s 2018 Christmas Hurdle heroine was the 5-6 favourite to get back on the winning trail, having filled the runner-up spot behind Silver Streak in a Listed event at Kempton a fortnight ago.

Verdana Blue had upwards of 22lb in hand over her six rivals in West Yorkshire on official ratings, but came up short in the rain-softened ground.

The Brian Ellison-trained Mrs Hyde had won on the same Kempton card a couple of weeks ago and was a 6-1 shot to double her Listed tally in the hands of Daryl Jacob.

Verdana Blue loomed up ominously in the home straight, but Mrs Hyde refused to bend on the run-in and saw her off by a neck.

“She’s never stopped improving,” said Ellison.

“When she won at Southwell and Perth during the summer, she made the running, but after she got beat at Market Rasen we decided we’d drop her in and give her a chance. It worked at Kempton and it’s worked again today.

“Daryl said he got to the front a bit early today. The plan was to sit until the last and try to pick the favourite off.

“She’s won on soft ground today and won on good to firm. She’s tough.”

Brian Ellison was delighted with Mrs Hyde's performance
Brian Ellison was delighted with Mrs Hyde’s performance (Brian Lawless/PA)

Considering future plans, the trainer added: “She’s won four of her last five races now and we might just give her a break.

“I know she’s won twice left-handed now, but I do think she’s better right-handed, so we could go back to Kempton or somewhere like that.”

Sean Bowen delivered Irish raider Hear No Evil with a well-timed challenge to claim the Price Promise At bet365 Handicap Chase.

The 16-1 shot was settled at the rear of the field for much of the three-mile contest, but came home strongly to score by nine and a half lengths from Grange Ranger.

It was a welcome boost for trainer Noel Kelly, who had to withdraw stable star Decor Irlandais from the Grade Two bet365 Hurdle later in the afternoon.

He said: “Decor Irlandais is here, but he pulled off a shoe. It’s a bit frustrating, but at least he didn’t break a tendon or something. It’s only a pulled shoe and it’s not the end of the world.

“We bought this horse (Hear No Evil) out of Dan Skelton’s yard. We said to Sean ‘take your time and if they go too fast, he’ll keeping plugging on’. He gave him a brilliant ride, I thought.”

Skelton’s Ashtown Lad displayed courage and class in equal measure to win a bet365 Novices’ Hurdle run in atrocious conditions.

Narrowly beaten over the course and distance on his previous outing, the 11-10 favourite was sent straight to the lead by Harry Skelton and jumped slickly and travelled strongly, despite the driving rain, on his way to a near three-length verdict.

A sodden Dan Skelton said: “He’s a very nice horse and he has a good attitude, obviously, to go from the front in that weather.

“He’s a chaser really and I always felt like this was a good horse.

“I’m not sure what we’ll do now. I’ll talk to Darren (Yates, owner) and decide.”

Minella For Me after winning at Wetherby
Minella For Me after winning at Wetherby (Ashley Iveson/PA)

Tom George and Johnny Burke combined to claim the bet365 Handicap Chase with 9-1 shot Minella For Me.

Carrying the colours of owner Simon Clarke, whose popular grey Nacarat won the Charlie Hall Chase on this card a decade ago, Minella For Me passed the post with five and a half lengths in hand over 100-30 favourite Guy.

Burke said: “He’s a very honest horse. He used to be quite keen, but he’s grown up a lot and is settling well and jumping well.

“He’s a good, fun horse for his owner Simon, who has been a great supporter of Tom.”

Burke went on to complete a double aboard Jonjo O’Neill’s 4-1 favourite Arrivederci in the concluding bet365 Handicap Hurdle.

Definitly Red heads Ellison’s powerful weekend squad

Brian Ellison has the three best National Hunt horses in his care entered this weekend – with Definitly Red topping the bill in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

A previous winner of the Grade Two race in 2018, Definitly Red could only finish fourth behind Ballyoptic 12 months ago.

He was being prepared for a crack at the Grand National last season, which of course never happened, but Ellison feels the long break may have done him some good.

Winning connections with Definitly Red after his Charlie Hall win two years ago
Winning connections with Definitly Red after his Charlie Hall win two years ago (Richard Sellers/PA)

“He’s very well and seems in great form,” said the Malton trainer.

“Because of what happened last spring, he didn’t get to go for the National, so he’s had a good holiday.

“He’s never been a horse we’ve over-raced, though – we’ve always looked after him.”

Definitly Red has been partnered for the majority of his career by Danny Cook – but Henry Brooke will be in the plate on Saturday, with Cook sidelined by an eye injury.

“I spoke to Danny on Monday night, and he’s gutted he can’t ride, but Henry’s ridden him before – so we’re not worried on that score,” said Ellison.

Ellison also has Forest Bihan, last seen beating Kalashnikov in the Old Roan Chase just over a year ago, and Windsor Avenue entered at Carlisle on Sunday.

“Forest Bihan might not go to Carlisle – he might just wait for Cheltenham and the Shloer Chase,” he added.

“There’s a lot of rain forecast at Carlisle, and that wouldn’t suit him.

“Windsor Avenue definitely runs (in the Colin Parker Memorial).

“He’s had his wind looked at since he last ran, his soft palate looked at. His wind was affecting him. He’s been hobdayed, too.

“We had it looked at early on, but we’ve finally had it done. He’s absolutely flying at home and is still unexposed – he’s a very good horse.”

Racing Insights, 7th October 2020

Tuesday's race at Leicester went the way that some of my musings thought they might. Acclaim The Nation did lead with Ainsdale taking over before feeling the toll of added weight on heavy ground. This left the door open for eventual winner Blue de Vega who had a good pace/draw markup on our cards and was hailing from an in-form yard.

Next up is...

Wednesday 7th October

Feature of the Day is the Trainer Statistics report, which is free on Wednesdays to all registered subscribers. Register here if you need to.

And today I'm going take a look at the Trainer Stats report, Course 365 day Year view.  This report give us the option to filter what would otherwise be a very long list and I've always set mine at 15 runs minimum, A/E of at least 1.25 and an IV of 1.50 and upwards.

There's an excellent explanation about A/E & IV right here.

So, if we cut to the report...

...where the one I'm going to look at is Brian Ellison, who happens the be the only unprofitable one to follow at SP, suggesting more analysis of his Sedgefield runners is needed to avoid the losers. Clicking the show/hide inline button ie...

...reveals two runners to look at...

Danny Cook will ride the 6 yr old gelding Snookered in a 4-runner, Class 4 Novice chase over 2m0.5f, whilst Nathan Moscrop will claim 3lbs aboard a former course and distance winner, the 8 yr old gelding Crackdeloust in a another Class 4 contest, this time in a handicap hurdle over 2m1f.

A quick look at Brian Ellison's 8 Sedgefield winners over the last year shows that all 8 were males sent off at 9/2 or shorter and 6 had ran in the previous 45 days. There's a 5:3 spilt for handicap/non-handicap and a similar spilt for hurdles to chases. Six yr olds are 3 from 5 and October runners are 3 from 4, so plenty of encouragement on the breakdown.

Now to Snookered's race...

We see that Danny Cook is in good form right now and rides plenty of winners here at Sedgefield over the years so lots of positives there, whilst it's interesting to see that Snookered himself has finished 2111 in four visits to this track. His jumping will have to be taken on trust as (a) this is his chasing debut and (b) he hasn't even raced over hurdles for almost 9 months.

The distance record of 4/16 actually includes 3 wins and 2 places from 7 over hurdles at trips of 2m0.5f to 2m1f, so the trip should be ideal for him here today, we'd just want his jumping to hold up.

Now onto Crackdeloust...

..who it's obviously a bit harder to make a case for. And a look at the profiler tab tells us that he's actually won just 2 of 21 starts so far. However, both wins came at Class 4, off higher marks than today, going left-handed and after 3-4 weeks rest and all apply here today. He has one win at this trip, one at this track and one on good ground and all three came together for a course and distance win here back in April 2017.

Summary

Two runners who'll probably fare very differently. If Snookered takes to the fences at the first time of asking, plenty of other variables are in his favour and I'd expect him to go well. He's in good hands with Danny Cook and my only other concern other than a first crack at fences is that other statters will cotton and back him down to an artificially low price.

Crackdeloust, on the other hand, isn't as well suited by the task ahead. He ran well for fourth last time out after more than six months off the track, but without intending disrespect, the jockey booking doesn't fill me with confidence, nor does good ground. This lad needs it softer in my opinion, so he's going to have to pray for rain. Based on old ability, he's more than good enough to be involved in the shake-up here, but there are more than a couple I'd rather pick as a winner. That's not to say he couldn't grab a place at double-digit odds, but it's unlikely.