NOTHING from jockey Tom and trainer Michael Scudamore’s perspective will ever come close to matching their shared elation when Next Sensation galloped to a fairytale Cheltenham Festival success 11 months ago.
It was a day, a once-in-a-lifetime moment, that the pair will never forget. AP McCoy’s final race at Cheltenham, it was a fitting way for these brothers to honour the memory of their devoted grandparents Michael senior, the 1959 Grand National-winning rider, and his wife Mary who had died within days of each other in the summer of 2013.
As Next Sensation flashed past the winning post, Tom Scudamore could not hold back the tears as he waved his whip in triumph and in the general direction of the packed grandstands where his younger brother Michael was struggling to contain his own emotions.
Yet they can dare to dream – Next Sensation remains on course to defend his Grand Annual Chase title next month – and the Scudamores will be hoping that the unheralded Kingswell Theatre can upset the odds in today’s Grade Two Towton Novices Chase at Wetherby.
Even without Sandy Thomson’s highly-regarded novice chaser Seeyouatmidnight, who is a disappointing absentee after scoping badly, this three-mile stamina test for novice chasers remains a compelling contest.
It sees Kingswell Theatre stepping up in class to take on the likes of the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Blaklion, who was beaten by Seeyouatmidnight at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, Colin Tizzard’s well-fancied Native River and Harry Fry’s Bitofapuzzle as well as Definitly Red from the in-form yard of Malton trainer Brian Ellison and Run Ructions Run from the Great Habton yard of Tim Easterby.
“On his Chepstow run at the beginning of December, he has a chance,” the jockey told The Yorkshire Post. “However, his last run at Haydock was too bad to be true. He will have to step up from that.
“If you ignore the last run, he would have a chance.
“To be honest, it is no different riding for Michael than it is for anyone else. It doesn’t make a difference.
“He’s a professional and he expects me to do a job.
“Yet Next Sensation was special. For both of us. Both of our grandparents had passed away, they had done so much for both of us, so it was a very special thing to share.”
Scudamore’s brother, whose stables are based in Herefordshire, concurs. He only acquired the horse last summer from the Scottish stable that his father Peter, the former champion jockey, runs with Lucinda Russell.
“He was going the right way until last time where he suffered a nasty cut at Haydock,” said the trainer. “We’re hoping that was the reason for the poor run.
“That aside, he deserves to take his chance. The more rain, the better. Hopefully that will come. All he does is stay and he has bags of stamina. The owners thought a smaller yard would suit him better. He’s a bit of a worrier, but he likes the one-to-one treatment we can give him.
“Tom knows the horse well. There won’t be too many detailed instructions. Just win – or the Christmas present might not be very good!”
Like many of today’s runners, the ultimate target is the four-mile National Hunt Chase for amateur riders at the Cheltenham Festival.
As for the 2015-16 season, it was always going to be difficult for both brothers to match their respective exploits of the previous campaign when the younger Scudamore saddled 20 winners over jumps and on the flat as well as being responsible for the Grand National third Monbeg Dude.
However, he had to concede defeat this week in his race against time to get Monbeg Dude, co-owned by Otley-born rugby international Mike Tindall, ready for this year’s Aintree renewal after the ever-popular horse injured a tendon in last year’s National.
Racing’s roller-coaster has also not favoured the older Scudamore, who harboured genuine title aspirations after riding a career-best 150 winners in a 20-14-15 campaign that culminated with the retirement of the aforementioned McCoy, the 20-time champion.
However, injury and suspension quickly conspired against Scudamore, who is more than 100 winners adrift of champion jockey-elect Richard Johnson, McCoy’s long-time nemesis.
The one consolation is that Scudamore hopes “the best is still to come” as Cheltenham and Aintree loom large.
Although David Pipe’s Dynaste has been out of sorts, he hopes the grey will appear later this month and that the Ryanair Chase remains “the most obvious” National Hunt Festival target.
However, it will take a special performance to replicate their 2014 victory.
And then there is Scudamore’s association with Thistlecrack, the revelation of the season and favourite for the three-mile Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham following an imposing victory seven days ago in the Cleeve Hurdle at the Cotswolds track.
Again luck was on Scudamore’s side when it came to getting the ride at Aintree last April for the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” he explained.
“He was a spare ride. Aidan Coleman had ridden him previously, but opted to ride something else in the race and I had ridden a fair bit for the Tizzards over the years. Once the horse won and showed what he was capable of, I wasn’t going to get off him in a hurry!”
Scudamore is grateful that his main trainer David Pipe did not pull rank when Thistlecrack lined up in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas – Dynaste was among the pursuers who could not come close to the runaway winner.
Unlike Cheltenham’s spectators last weekend, Scudamore was not surprised when Thistlecrack surged clear at the last.
He said the horse was travelling that well and is, potentially, the complete package with an abundance of stamina matched by tactical speed – this, he points out, is a horse which was good enough to finish a more than competitive fifth in Sandown’s Imperial Cup, a renowned cavalry charge, last March.
“He’s a special horse,” added Scudamore.
“But the World Hurdle will be a different test altogether.”
Like today – and Kingswell Theatre’s attempt to become racing box office.