ONE OF Yorkshire Racing’s favourites.

One of the most admired racehorses to grace the region’s turf.

He was eye-catching, a character and he had a talent to boot.

The Brian Ellison-trained Top Notch Tonto was adored by so many racegoers up and down the land.

He was retired from racing in October of last year after a career spanning seven years on the track.

Now the striking gelding is undergoing retraining in an exciting new chapter of his life.

The 10-year-old Ellison stalwart is now in the very capable and caring hands of new owner Karen Woodall from Leavening near Malton.

But how the pair were brought together is quite unusual.

One afternoon several years ago, Woodall recalls Top Notch Tonto catching her eye on television; she made a note of his name and continued to follow his journey.

Some might say the rest is history.

“I use to run a pub in Sheffield; lots of people would come in to watch the racing,” said Woodall.

“I remember watching him running one time when he was in training with Ian McInnes.”

“He was so stunning I wrote his name on my calendar and I said I want that horse for myself because he’s so flashy,” she added.

Top Notch Tonto won a total of six races from 61 starts during his racing campaign.

He proved to be a top level performer when joining the Ellison yard in 2013.

He did not waste any time either as his first start for the Malton trainer was a winning one.

He went onto record success at both Listed and Group level and Woodall recalls how she thought the horse was perhaps out of her reach.

Woodall continued: “He began to do really well with Brian and my friends in Sheffield had said ‘Karen, you will never get that horse he is running in Group One races!’”

In recent years the gelding found himself running in lower graded races and a spell of racing in Ireland in 2018 failed to rejuvenate any of his old sparkling form.

And so when time was called on his racing career last autumn, it was inevitable.

“I got a phone call out of the blue, at the time I already had two ex-racehorses so I wasn’t really looking for another horse, but I thought it is Top Notch Tonto I have to and here I am with him,” said Woodall.

As well as his early natural speed on the track, Top Notch Tonto had the looks and Ellison recalls how the horse became such a popular figure amongst northern racing.

“He was a gentleman,” said Ellison.

“He drew in crowds of people at the open days, everyone wanted to see him and the kids would stroke him, he loved people.

“People came from a long way just to see him, he loved it.”

As well as the chestnut gelding’s unusual markings, he was regarded as quite a rag to riches story, as his trainer said.

“His white socks and his colouring stand out,” he said.

“He was a very cheap horse to buy.

“He is by the stallion Thousand Words who is not very well known.”

Despite an ordinary pedigree, he is a horse that many are familiar with and he is still getting recognised to this day.

Woodall keeps Top Notch Tonto at a yard only a stone’s throw away from Ellison’s training stables and she is already in awe of his talents.

“He’s been in work for five weeks now but he is coming on in leaps and bounds.

“He’s fantastic.

“He has been hacking out and schooling as I want to do some dressage with him eventually “ He’s a dream,” she said.

“I got stopped the other day when I was hacking out by the trainer Nigel Tinkler he said he looked fantastic!” added the new proud owner.

At the ripe old age of ten, Top Notch Tonto is very much in his prime to begin a new career and Woodall has exciting plans for him.

The pair are aiming to undertake some ROR (Retraining of Racehorses) classes in the near future.

“Hopefully we will go to Yorkshire Show next year; I have got high hopes for him,” Woodhall beamed.

“He’s a real star.”

Should there be one, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, crowds at this year’s Malton Open Day will undoubtedly miss the familiar face that lit up the Ellison stable on so many occasions.

“He was a good horse on his day,” she added.

“When he won at York the crowd gave him a huge applause.

“I thought finishing second on Champions Day at Ascot in a Group One was a brilliant performance.

“That day he had Guineas winners behind him, that was a great performance,” recalls his trainer.

Ellison is still trying to keep business as usual at his Malton premises.

“We are still busy on the gallops here,” Ellison said.

“Everyone will want to run when racing returns so it’s going to be very different.”