Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Brian Ellison: Born Survivor

Brian Ellison
Nowadays, Brian Ellison is best known as the trainer of Definitly Red, who arrived at his Spring Cottage Stables in Malton, North Yorkshire three seasons ago and has since won nine races, including the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January, 2018. The latter victory, which Ellison described as the “most important of his career”, marked Definitly Red out as a live contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for which he is currently quoted at 16/1. Ellison has 130 horses in training and has saddled over 1,000 winners, but has had his fair share of ups and downs.

Ellison began his racing career five decades ago, joining the late Harry Blackshaw at Warwick Lodge in Middleham, North Yorkshire as a stable lad at the age of 15. Two years later he became a conditional jockey and spent the next 20 years or so riding largely moderate horses. At the end of his riding career, Ellison ran a livery yard and worked as assistant trainer to Don Eddy and Nigel Tinker before taking out a training licence in 1989.

He started training from a leased stable in Malton with just three horses, before moving to Low Meadow Farm, Lanchester, Co. Durham, where he spent six years. Ellison saddled his first winner as a trainer, Corbitt’s Diamond, in a ‘bumper’ at Hexham in November, 1989 but, having subsequently struggled to make much of an impact, almost gave up training altogether in 1995. However, thanks to hard work and no mean ability in training Flat and National Hunt horses, Ellison was able to bring his business back from the brink. One of his best horses in those early days was Fatehalkhair, a Kris gelding who cost just £2,000, but won 20 races on the Flat, over hurdles and over fences between 1997 and 2002.

At the turn of the millennium, Ellison bought Spring Cottage Stables and moved back to Malton with a string of 18 modest horses. However, the move marked the start of his steady progression through the ranks to become one of the leading dual purpose trainers in the country.

In 2011, he won the Coral Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow with Marsh Warbler and the Betfred Ebor with Moyenne Corniche. He also celebrated his 500th winner when Odin’s Raven won a novices’ hurdle at Sedgefield in May that year. In 2013, he saddled his first Group winner, Top Notch Tonto, in the Superior Mile at Haydock.

Top Notch Tonto was transferred from Ian McInness in July, but had officially improved by 28lb by the time he was supplemented, at a cost of £70,000, for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October. Ellison warned punters not to dismiss his progressive 3-year-old, saying, “The ground has come right for him and there might be a few dropping out by the end of the week because of it.” His confidence was no entirely misplaced either because, although he had no chance with the winner, Olympic Glory, Top Notch Tonto belied odds of 14/1 by finishing second, beaten 3½ lengths, and collected just under £228,000 in prize money.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Richard Hannon: Good Fathers Make Good Sons

Richard Hannon
As if his father, Richard Hannon Snr., five times Champion Trainer, wasn’t a hard enough act to follow, Richard Hannon Jr. made a rod for his own back by winning the Trainers’ Championship at the first attempt in 2014. Still, having saddled Night Of Thunder to win the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket and Toronado to win the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in that initial season, Hannon has managed at least one winner at the highest level each year since taking over the reins at Herridge and Everleigh Racing Stables in Wiltshire, South West England on New Year’s Day 2014.

Of all his early successes, Hannon singled out Toormore, his first runner in Hong Kong since taking over the training licence, as “one that I remember for the rest of my training days.” Toormore contested the Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin in December 2015 and, although ultimately well beaten, Hannon described the 4-year-old as a “real professional”.

More recently, Richard Hannon saddled Barney Roy to win the St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and, in doing so, avenge an arguably unlucky defeat by Churchill in 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket the previous month. On the Rowley Mile at Newmarket, Barney Roy stumbled and became unbalanced on the descent into ‘the Dip’ and, although he stayed on well under pressure, could make no impression on Churchill in the closing stages, going down by a length.

It’s fair to say that Churchill was below par at Ascot, but Barney Roy subsequently failed by the minimum margin to overhaul Ulysses in the Coral-Eclipse, proving himself a top performer over a mile and a quarter. Hannon said of him, “Barney Roy is by far the best colt I have trained and the most athletic horse I have seen. We look forward to seeing his yearlings at the sales.” The Excelebration colt does not, as originally planned, stay in training as a four-year-old and now stands at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket.

Looking forward, Brian Epstein, by the excellent young sire Dark Angel out of Jewel In The Crown – who Richard Hannon Snr. trained to win the Cherry Hinton Stakes as a two-year-old – is just one potentially smart unraced juvenile that Hannon has in his yard for 2018. He’s also recently celebrated his first winner in the United Arab Emirates, with the victory of Oh This Is Usin the valuable Shaista AZIZI Handicap at the Meydan Carnival.