A RYEDALE trainer who has made an excellent start to the year is awaiting the return of two vital team members – one human and one equine.
Brian Ellison, who stole the show at Catterick last week when saddling three winners and who followed up with a single strike at Wetherby on Saturday, is expecting Danny Cook, his sidelined number one jockey over jumps, to be back riding at the end of the month.
By that time Top Notch Tonto, his flagship horse on the Flat should be back in training at Spring Cottage Stables in Norton.
Cook has been out of action since a freak accident at Newcastle in mid-November when he was kicked by another runner and suffered a broken leg.
He set a target of being back in the saddle by the end of January and is on course to meet that goal. Ellison explained: “What happened was bad luck on Danny, but he’s been down at Oaksey House in Lambourn recently, getting some physio. He is back riding out for me this week in the hope of resuming racing at the end of the month.”
As for Top Notch Tonto, who has been holidaying with his owner, Keith Browne, since the end of the Flat season, he will be rejoining the Ellison stable in the very near future.
“He’ll be back within the next couple of weeks,” said the trainer. “I haven’t seen him in the flesh since he went away, only photographs of him, but he looks as though he’s done very well.”
Top Notch Tonto, originally trained and bought for a bargain 3,000 guineas by Ian McInnes, joined Ellison early last summer and proved a revelation. He won a handicap at Newmarket on his first outing for his new handler, was narrowly beaten in another on the same course and then won the Group 3 Superior Mile at Haydock at odds of 22-1.
Denied an outing in the Cambridgeshire Handicap because of unsuitable ground, Top Notch Tonto turned out instead a week later at Redcar where he won a Listed race.
It was, however, his final start of the campaign that stamped him as a horse on the crest of a wave. Supplemented to take part in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot at a cost to his owner of £70,000, the gamble paid off when he defied his 14-1 odds by finishing second to Olympic Glory and scooping a prize of more than £227,000.
Having been rated 87 when he joined Ellison, Top Notch Tonto is set to start the new season nudging a mark of 120 which means his targets will inevitably be centred around Pattern races and conditions events.
“Where he runs and what he runs in will be ground dependent as he’s at his best in the mud,” said Ellison. “But I suppose the logical first race for him, if conditions were right, would be the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.”
Such decisions will not need to be made until April and Ellison has plenty to occupy him in the meantime. Last week at Catterick, on the same day he sent out Racy to occupy a mid-field position in a handicap at Meydan on the opening day of the Dubai Carnival, he sent out three winners at Catterick, a spree initiated by the Tony McCoy-ridden Magic Skyline in the novices’ hurdle.
The four-year-old, posting her second win over timber from four starts and making up for a disappointing effort at Musselburgh on her previous start, won as she liked by a wide margin.
While the legendary McCoy was the beneficiary of a second Ryedale-trained winner at Catterick in the shape of Great Habton trainer Tim Easterby’s novice hurdler Getabuzz, Ellison had two of his resident conditional riders on his other two winners at the meeting.
Nathan Moscrop, having won on Yorkist on the same course on New Year’s Day, again teamed up with the gelding in the novice hurdle and the pair enjoyed another success.
Yorkist, the latest winner for the Gazette & Herald’s ‘Ten to Follow’, has looked a different horse since successfully undergoing an operation to help his breathing.
Craig Gallagher was the rider on Ellison’s third winner, Gone Further, who fulfilled the promise he had shown in his two previous races when galloping home to a workmanlike success.
Come Wetherby on Saturday and it was Yesyoucan who added his name to the Ellison scoresheet with an all-the-way success over fences under Wayne Hutchinson.
Yesyoucan was doubling his chasing tally. His opening success over fences had come at Newcastle in mid-November when he was ridden to victory by Cook, just a couple of hours before the jockey broke his leg. It should not be long before the partnership is resumed once again.
• GRAND National-winning trainer can be added to Malcolm Jefferson’s CV after last week.
Admittedly, it was the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick, and not the Grand National at Aintree that the Norton trainer won, but in Sun Cloud Jefferson just might have a horse who could bid for the real thing in another year or two.
Partnered by Brian Hughes, Sun Cloud, a previous runaway winner at Hexham, had been raised 10lb for that success but he shrugged off that rise in fine style in this £20,000 race over three and three-quarter miles.
Always going well, the Norton gelding led at the third last fence and galloped home 11 lengths clear of Merlin’s Wish, winner of the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day.
“He stays well and is a horse who has really got his jumping together now,” said Jefferson, who was continuing the excellent run of success he has enjoyed since Christmas.
• Ifandbutwhynot, one of the Gazette and Herald’s ‘Ten to Follow’, could be in action at Haydock on Saturday.
The David O’Meara-trained gelding, a winner of a Listed hurdle at Newbury two starts ago and subsequently a good second at Musselburgh, has the option of lining-up for the Champion Hurdle Trial at the Lancashire track.
As for Tim Easterby’s high-class staying hurdler, Trustan Times, he could be set for a return to fences at Haydock. He holds an entry in the Graduation Chase on Saturday.
• Richard Fahey came closest of the Ryedale fraternity to saddling a winner on the opening day of the Dubai Carnival last Thursday when the Musley Bank trainer had both the second and fourth in the Listed race.
Gabrial, partnered by Hayley Turner, clinched the runner-up spot, beaten a length and a quarter, while Musley Bank stablemate Tales Of Grimm filled fourth place in the same race in the hands of James Doyle. Ironically, the contest went to Mushreq, who was ridden to victory by none other than Paul Hanagan, Fahey’s long-time number one jockey and now retained by Sheikh Hamdan Al-Maktoum, the owner of the winner.
Hanagan went on to Jebel Ali, Dubai’s other course, the following day and completed a sparkling treble on the card which also saw Silvestre de Sousa, likewise formerly based in North Yorkshire, riding a double.
David O’Meara had a fourth on the opening Meydan meeting with smart handicapper Mont Ras.
Paul Midgley, meanwhile, was left well satisfied with the performance of Monsieur Joe, a new recruit to his Westow yard, who finished sixth in the sprint handicap.
• Forced Family Fun may have earned himself a place in John Quinn’s squad for the Cheltenham Festival in March, following a second hurdling win at Doncaster.
Successful on his jumping debut at Hexham, the gelding, previously trained on the Flat by Michael Bell, then suffered an unfortunate mishap at Catterick, where he unseated his rider at the first flight after colliding with another runner in mid-air. Since then, he had finished second at Ffos Las.
Forced Family Fun, however, got back in the winning groove on Town Moor with a battling display to get the better of Tim Easterby’s Mojolika by half-a-length.
• Jimmy Sullivan and Barry McHugh have wasted little time opening their winning accounts in 2014.
Sullivan, who rode 40 winners last year, and who missed a vital late chunk of the season through injury, resumed winning ways on only his fourth mount of the new year when he got the James Given-trained Sweet Angelica home by a head at Southwell to gain a 25-1 success.
McHugh, with 41 winners in 2013, posted his first victory of the year by an identical margin aboard Lexi’s Hero, trained by Richard Fahey to score at Wolverhampton last weekend.
• CLASSINAGLASS showed his talents to help give trainer Steph Easterby and jockey Harry Bannister a treble at the Yorkshire Point-to-Point Club meeting at Sheriff Hutton.
The 4-6 favourite, pictured right, fended off Special Portrait to put himself in reach of a trip to the Foxhunters at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Earlier, the duo had taken the club members race with Port Golan (5-2 fav), with the veteran Amicelli, a former winner of the Foxhunters and ridden by Mick Easterby’s granddaughter Jacqueline Coward, a creditable second at the age of 15.
And it was completed thanks to Banny’s Lad (5-1), a son of Osorio bought by Mick Easterby for £1,200 as a foal from Doncaster, in the open maiden.
Division two of the open maiden saw rider Richard Smith celebrate his 50th winner aboard his own horse Mistissio (6-1).
The seven-year-old finished strongly after the last to collar Cobblers Hill.
Catherine Walton diverted from an abandoned Kelso to the Point-to-Point and found compensation as Ockey De Neuilliac (7-2) won the ladies open.
The pair made all the running and came away comfortably to win.
The Restricted race was a hotly fought out finish as Onetwobeat and Drivehomeregardless battled it out to the line.
The former, ridden by Derrick Smith, came out on top.