RAY SCHOLEY is the archetypal National Hunt devotee – farmer, huntsman and proud owner of staying steeplechasers.
A self-made butcher’s son from South Yorkshire, nothing gives the octogenarian, and wife Margaret, greater pleasure than watching their horses, trained by Sue and Harvey Smith, blazing a trail from the front.
It has already been a good week – the novice chaser I Just Know was an eye-catching winner at Catterick on Monday. “I think a lot about him. He’s a big strapping horse,” the 87-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.
Scholey will be at Haydock when his popular Wakanda lines up in the Betfred Grand National Trial over three-and-a-half gruelling miles.
Scholey is confident his horse, small in stature but big in heart, will see out the extended trip under regular rider Danny Cook. If he does, April’s Scottish National at Ayr is the target rather than the Grand National.
It is a tough race – leading National contenders like Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion competing against the likes of Wakanda’s stablemate Vintage Clouds, owned by Trevor Hemmings, who is still in his novice season.
While Wakanda, now the winner of seven races, is not in the same class as the Scholey-owned Truckers Tavern who, when trained by Ferdy Murphy, was second to the legendary Best Mate in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the owner is hopeful ahead of today’s test.
“Sue told me that he went over a set of hurdles on Monday like an express train. He schooled very well on Wednesday and is in very good order,” said Scholey.
“He’s a very good horse, but Truckers Tavern is the best I’ve had. If Best Mate hadn’t been so good, he would have won the Gold Cup easily.
“Truckers won a novice chase at Towcester in 2002. Adrian Maguire rode him and he sat there, never moved a muscle. Adrian jumped off and said: ‘You have a brilliant Gold Cup horse here’. It’s just a shame Adrian couldn’t ride him in the Gold Cup.”
Brought up in the cattle trade, Scholey started arable farming in 1948 north of Doncaster and is irritated that the police and local MP Ed Miliband have been slow to respond to ‘poaching’ on his land. He awaits the response of a letter sent to the chief constable.
His family’s interests in hunting and point-to-point racing culminated with the Scholeys having horses trained professionally, first with Mary Reveley, then the aforementioned Murphy and now the Smiths.
Left ‘lame’ by injuries suffered in a hunting accident more than 30 years ago when his horse slipped on black ice and fell on his prone body, he was not minded to buy Wakanda at Doncaster Sales despite numerous overtures from an Irish horse dealer who would not budge on the asking price.
He also thought the horse was too small for his liking. Yet, when Scholey made a final ‘take it or leave it’ offer, the horse was his and three quickfire wins in the autumn of 2015, culminating with a high-profile success at Ascot, were amongst the most satisfying of his career in racing.
The downside was an unrealistically high handicap mark, but Wakanda’s fine second to Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red in Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day – a race won by the Keith Mercer-ridden Truckers Tavern in 2004 – offers further grounds for confidence.
Scholey also provides great insight into the successes enjoyed in recent years by Cook since teaming up with the Smiths at the end of 2014.
“Danny is a good jockey. A good jockey is one who nicks a race when he shouldn’t. Wakanda won at Ascot when he shouldn’t have done,” said Scholey, who has four horses in training.
“I get on with Sue and Harvey. What Harvey doesn’t know about horses isn’t worth knowing. Sue works her socks off. She works every hour and she tries to please. You’ve got to take notice of your trainer or we are all in bother.
“She’s very honest and very straight. If there’s a anything wrong with the horse, she rings. Harvey must be a very good judge of a horse – he never paid much for his show-jumpers or racehorses.
“I don’t gamble at all – the only time I do is to put a fiver on one to stop it beating mine. I was in the paddock with Sue at Catterick before I Just Know’s race and there was a horse that caught our eyes. I backed it – and mine won.”