The Beast from the East might be subsiding, but the Angel of the North is in the form of his life says trainer Brian Ellison, who spent Saturday morning applying some of the finishing touches to Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Definitly Red’s festival preparation.
Owned by Phil and Julie Martin, Definitly Red emerged as a live player for the Cheltenham showpiece when recording an eight-length victory in the Cotswold Chase in January and delighted Ellison when exercising on North Yorkshire neighbour Richard Fahey’s gallops on Saturday.
His chances could also be boosted by the prospect of heavy ground at the festival, a possibility not ruled out by track officials with as much as 15mm of rain forecast by next Sunday, on top of thawing snow.
Regular workrider Andy Robertson assumed the controls for the classy nine-year-old’s leg-stretch, which had the trainer purring.
“It was just to get him away somewhere different,” said Ellison, speaking on the way to Newcastle for its all-weather card for jumps horses. “He worked over a mile and went really well. Andy, who looks after him and rides him every day, was on board and he was happy.
“We have heart monitors on him and they were very good and we scoped him after to make sure he was all right and he was very clean, so everything is perfect at the moment.
“He’ll have another workout at home next week, but he’s spot on. I couldn’t have him any better; he’s in great form.”
A general 16-1 for the Gold Cup, Definitly Red will – weather permitting – be schooled by big-race rider Danny Cook next weekend, outlined Ellison, who will be happy with a testing surface at Cheltenham, but would not like it to be tacky.
He said: “The snow melting on the track and leaving it on the easy side is exactly what we want to see and hear and I think there’s some rain forecast.
“He’s effective on good-to-soft ground as well, but he just doesn’t want that holding, tacky ground. I don’t think most horses want gluey ground and there’s a massive distinction between that and soft/heavy ground.”
As for the opposition, they are respected, but not feared.
“I don’t worry about them,” added one of Britain’s most-effective dual-purpose operators. “The only worry I’ve got is to get my horse there and if he’s good enough, he’s good enough and if he’s not, he’s not. He’s good enough to be in it though and he’s not far off the top-rated in the race.
“It’d be great if he’s thereabouts, but as long as he runs his race he’ll run a big race. There are no negatives as long as he’s in good fettle.”
Heavy ground would not faze connections of the Harry Fry-trained American, who was eight lengths off Definitly Red in the Cotswold Chase.
He would need supplementing for the Gold Cup at a cost of £27,500 next Saturday, which Fry could be tempted into after Kelso’s meeting this weekend – which his mud-loving eight-year-old was due to run at – was cancelled.
Officials at the Scottish circuit are hoping to have it rearranged for next Sunday, but that will ultimately be determined by the BHA on Monday.
“We’re talking to the BHA, who are looking at other meetings that have been abandoned, but we are very keen, if possible, to reschedule as many of those races for the horses who would have been running today,” Kelso’s managing director Jonathan Garratt said on Saturday.
“Two years ago, we moved the fixture in its entirety to eight days later, but there are so many things up in the air. Between now and Monday, things could change and it may be Kelso isn’t the best venue forecast-wise to stage a fixture, but right now the forecast for us looks favourable. We should get a thaw and with a bit of good fortune should be raceable next Sunday.
“We don’t know if we’ll get the fixture, but that’s what we’re aiming at and we’ve spoken to a lot of trainers with horses engaged in those races and they seem pretty keen to come if that’s possible. The original card is often seen as an Aintree springboard and is not particularly Cheltenham-centric.”