Racehorses can take their owners and trainers on some unlikely expeditions but there are few in recent memory to match the journey with The Mackem Bullet that has carried Brian Ellison all the way to the Breeders’ Cup in Kentucky. “This is the dream,” he said on Wednesday as he watched her exercise on the track. “You stand here and watch all these beautiful horses, they’re the best of the best, and it’s nice to have one with a really good chance.”
The Mackem Bullet cost only £9,000 as a yearling, and made her debut in front of 1,000 paying spectators at Carlisle in May. She started at 22-1 and finished sixth. Just over five months later, she will go into the starting gate for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf at Churchill Downs, a million-dollar race at one of the sport’s most famous and iconic venues.
Ellison started out as a trainer nearly 30 years ago, with three horses in his yard. In recent years he has been more closely associated with jumping horses, including the high-class chaser Definitly Red, who is due to run in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday. He is very much a dual-purpose trainer, however, whose big-race wins include the Ebor Handicap in 2011 with Moyenne Corniche, but a victory for The Mackem Bullet on Friday would trump anything Ellison has achieved to date, under either code.
“I can’t take the credit for buying her,” Ellison said. “That was the [former] owner [Brian Robe], who bought her at Doncaster at the back-end of the sale, sheer luck really.
“That first run was about getting to know her but every run since she’s improved on, and her last two runs [when narrowly beaten in both the Lowther Stakes and Cheveley Park Stakes] have been amazing. She didn’t come down the hill [in the Cheveley Park] and Oisin [Murphy] says that if she had, she’d have won. She’s game and all heart and Oisin says she’s crying out for further, so I hope he’s right.”
Ellison’s journey with The Mackem Bullet will end on Friday, as Robe sold his filly to the leading Japanese breeder Katsumi Yoshida before her run at Newmarket, and she will race in the US next season before retiring to the paddocks. Win or lose, though, she has already underlined Ellison’s reputation as one of the best dual-purpose trainers in the business.
“We’ve been training 28 years and it’s been very up and down,” Ellison said, recalling the first decade of his career when he struggled to reach double figures for winners under either code. “But in the last few years it’s really picked up. I’ve got a good family behind me and the yard’s like a family too. It’s just down to graft, that’s all it is.”
Will graft have its reward on Friday evening? There are obvious reasons for doubt, as The Mackem Bullet (8.00) is stepping up two furlongs in trip on rain-softened ground. Her rating, though, suggests she is a match for anything in the field, which is only to be expected given her form in a Group One last time, while Murphy’s confidence in her ability to last home is infectious. At 14-1, she looks an outstanding each-way bet to bring her journey from Carlisle to Kentucky to a memorable conclusion.
Elsewhere on the Friday card, the new Juvenile Turf Sprint looks tailor-made for the Europeans and Archie Watson’s Soldier’s Call (7.21), another of Murphy’s fine book of rides at the meeting, could be the one to take advantage. Line Of Duty (9.22) is still improving and has a big chance for Charlie Appleby in the Juvenile Turf, while Sippican Harbour (8.40) and Game Winner (10.05) stand out in the Juvenile Fillies’ and the Juvenile respectively.