EVEN though jockey Danny Cook and owner Phil Martin grew up watching racing in different eras, they always wanted their names on the Charlie Hall Chase’s roll of honour because of the race’s prestige.
Now they – and Malton trainer Brian Ellison – can look at the history books, and watch the replays, with justifiable pride after the popular Definitly Red became the first Yorkshire winner of Wetherby’s showpiece steeplechase since 1987.
On an unforgettable day which saw a Yorkshire clean sweep of the major races thanks to Lady Buttons and Nautical Nitwit winning the chief support races for Phil Kirby, the post-race reaction of Cook and Martin spoke volumes as Northern jump racing enjoyed one of its finest days on home turf in recent years.
As retired Tickhill businessman Martin led his horse back into the winner’s enclosure, an elated Cook waved his whip in the air as he accepted the acclaim of a knowledgeable crowd who can spot a good horse when they see one.
The ovation trumped the greeting afforded moments earlier to the runner up Black Corton after ever popular rider Bryony Frost made a gravity-defying recovery when her horse blundered at the first of four open ditches.
She deserved this reception – and the spontaneous round of applause from the packed grandstands during the race – after she found herself precariously hanging around Black Corton’s leg in a dramatic contest which began with Double Shuffle crashing out at the very first fence.
Yet, as the race progressed, Black Corton – and Bridget Andrews back in third on Virgilio – were always up against it as Definitly Red jumped slickly, and then produced a prodigious leap at the fifth last, to confirm his superiority.
From then, the home favourite was never troubled and became a more than deserving winner of a historic race that can be traced back to 1969 and which has been won by some of steeplechasing’s all-time greats.
Testimony to the training versatility of the aforementioned Ellison, who was away in America where The Mackem Bullet had finished sixth at Flat racing’s Breeders’ Cup meeting the previous night, it also vindicated Cook and Martin’s decision to take a chance and run Definitly Red on ground that was quicker than ideal.
Even though seven million tonnes of water had been pumped onto the racecourse since early September due to the unseasonably dry autumn, Wetherby’s feature day of the year was hit by depleted runners after 16 horses were withdrawn by connections because of the quick ground.
These were primarily in the supporting races because trainers have alternative options for their horses. And while only four runners went to post for the £100,000 Charlie Hall Chase after high-profile entries like Bristol De Mai and Thistlecrack were not declared on Friday, Definitly Red would have been more than a match for them on this form.
“That was good fun, I want to do it again,” a delighted Cook told The Yorkshire Post after winning for the seventh time on the diminutive horse that he calls ‘Big Red’.
“It’s great for everyone concerned to win a prestigious race – and great to have our names in history. Growing up, it’s one of the races that I always watched. He likes good ground and he really enjoyed himself. He’s perfect for me because he races behind the bridle a little, but he keeps finding for pressure. He’s done wonders for me and I love riding him.”
As for the future, the aforementioned Martin nominated the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on December 8 – a high-profile race that Definitly Red won last season en route to landing the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham before finishing a far from disgraced sixth in the Gold Cup.
The quandary is a longer-term target for this nine-year-old, who cannot handle the very sticky ground that he experienced in Cheltenham’s blue riband race.
Martin is of a view that Definitly Red is more effective in smaller races where he’s less likely to be intimidated by bigger rivals.
“The next obvious race for him is the Many Clouds Case at Aintree he won last year. It’s a small field and he likes to boss them, he’s much better in smaller fields,” said the owner.
“He’s a fantastic jumper and him and Danny are a match made in heaven.
“This is a race I’ve always wanted to win. Brian wasn’t keen to run, but I twisted his arm. He’s just shy of top class, but he’s a proper Grade Two horse.
“I think when he won the Cotswold Chase last season that left a mark on him in the Gold Cup, so if we’re thinking that way this year he wouldn’t run in it, that’s if we’re being serious.”
As for Frost, she endured a chastening day. She took a heavy fall when leaving the paddock on Cubswin before the Mares’ Hurdle won by Lady Buttons, but was still smiling after her miracle recovery on Black Corton. “Let me just pick my heart up off the floor. It was a silly mistake, but he stuck his neck out and made sure I didn’t fall off,” she said.
Yet, while her acrobatics will be replayed time and time again, this deserves to be remembered as a red letter day for Yorkshire racing – and Definitly Red.