THE story behind Monbeg Dude, the unwanted horse bought at the sales by a slightly inebriated Mike Tindall and then schooled by his wife Zara Phillips, is already an endearing one thanks to his Royal connections and a brilliant Coral Welsh National win when he came from last to first.
But sterner tests now await the popular nine-year-old who lines up in today’s William Hill Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster, the feature of Town Moor’s final NH meeting of the 2013-14 winter campaign, ahead of a potential date with destiny in next month’s Crabbie’s Grand National.
While “the Dude” will have no shortage of supporters – his ever enthusiastic co-owners from the Cotswolds country set also include Tindall’s fellow rugby internationals James Simpson-Daniel and Nicky Robinson – his exploits enable the focus to shift onto the considerable training skills of Michael Scudamore, the less heralded member of a racing dynasty that includes his father Peter, a former champion jockey, and in-form brother Tom, who is enjoying a career-best season of his own.
“It’s quite fun. The attention makes a difference from not having any,” the trainer told the Yorkshire Post. “The horse is the star and he probably gets a bit more publicity because of his owners.”
Monbeg Dude will be reunited today with Paul Carberry, who was in the saddle when the horse won the Welsh National at Chepstow in January 2013, because Scudamore’s brother is required to ride at Newbury for his retained trainer David Pipe.
However, Carberry, who won an emotional Grand National in 1999 aboard Bobbyjo for his father Tommy, is likely to encounter a reformed character thanks to the tutelage of Phillips, the Queen’s grand-daughter and one of the world’s most accomplished three-day event riders.
“The work he has done with Zara has been crucial,” said the trainer who is based in Herefordshire close to the home of his grandfather Michael senior, who won the 1959 National on Oxo. “And also the experience. As the Dude has got older, he’s got stronger.
“When he did win the Welsh National at Chepstow, it was only his fifth or sixth run over fences. He was pretty inexperienced against many of those horses he was up against.
“He’s definitely improved. The work Zara has done was intended to make him more agile. By getting him to jump over showjumping poles, she’s taught him to respect his obstacles and make him sharper on his feet. It will be nice to get him out again – he missed the National Trial at Haydock because he had not scoped 100 per cent and was on antibiotics for four days. (Today’s) a nice race and we are there to do our best. At the same time, it is part of a bigger plan and that plan is to get him to Aintree.”
An unexpected purchase by Otley-born Tindall when a day out culminated with a somewhat hazy visit to the racing sales, Monbeg Dude is not the only celebrity-owned horse in today’s line-up – recently retired Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson runs his course winner Harry The Viking.
Ironically the horse’s jockey, Nick Scholfield, is an ardent supporter of Liverpool – Sir Alex’s great rivals during his reign at Old Trafford.
Yorkshire hopes rest with the pace-setting Night In Milan. Although Keith Reveley’s horse did not handle heavy ground in Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase last month, the eight-year-old did beat Sue Smith’s popular De Boitron on Town Moor back in December.
“He likes the track and the ground should be perfect for him, all being well,” said Saltburn-based Reveley whose son James will be in the saddle. “We’ll have a go but I’m not convinced he’s that well-handicapped at the moment. If he can bounce away fairly handy, get into a good rhythm, we’ll see what happens.”
Yet the veteran Carberry is not perturbed. He said Monbeg Dude could not have jumped better when he prevailed at Cheltenham last December with Tom Scudamore in the saddle.
Jump racing’s acclaimed hold-up rider said: “It will be different to Chepstow when I got on him and hoped for the best. The way he has run this year, it’s been very impressive.
“I also think he will have a great chance at Aintree. Before, no chance – he would have struggled in Bobbyjo’s era. Then, you wouldn’t be putting your hand up to ride a horse like that. Now, no bother.”