Scudamore has faith in Junior’s National hopes

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TOM Scudamore has listened to a lifetime of stories about how his grandfather Michael rode Oxo to Grand National glory in 1959.

Now he hopes to create his own piece of National history aboard Junior whose Aintree preparations begin today in Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chase.

A solid showing from Junior – owned by the Middleham Park syndicate based at Barton-on Humber – would confirm the horse’s status at the head of the National’s ante-post betting.

Eighth on his comeback over hurdles at Newbury, the forecast good ground for the three-and-a-quarter trip will suit.

Fast conditions are one reason why Alan King is unlikely to run his Aintree contender West End Rocker while Ballabriggs, the 2011 National victor, now swerves the Grimthorpe and makes his reappearance at Kelso alsongside Malcolm Jeferson’s According To Pete, Yorkshire’s National hope.

However Scudamore, 29, believes Junior – a horse that has won handicaps at both Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival – is an ideal National-type, even though he has not run over fences for a year.

“All roads lead to Aintree and today is a very good opportunity,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“I was impressed with him at Newbury and I’m really, really looking forward to it. I don’t know about special qualities but he can travel at a high crusing speed for a long way. He can keep going when others cry off.

“For a staying chaser, that’s what you want – and there are not many who’ve also been good enough to win at Royal Ascot.”

At least Scudamore and Junior have a clear strategy – unlike Grands Crus, his primary Cheltenham hope, who is still entered in both the RSA Chase and Betfred Gold Cup.

“It’s all about getting there, a lot of luck has to be involved. The one certainty is I will go where Grands Crus goes,” he added. “He’s in good form at hope and Gerry Supple, who does all the work, is very pleased with him.”

If Junior does line-up at Aintree – and Scudamore says the key word is ‘if’ because of Kauto Star’s injury steback – it would be the rider’s 10th ride in the National.

Yet he did not hesitate when he said Junior would be “the best one I’ve had so far” – superior even to Madison du Berlais, the 2008 Hennessy victor.

Junior’s prominence partly compenses the Middleham Park syndicate for the injury suffered by Backstage who was 10th last year. The 10-year-old, trained in County Meath by Gordon Elliott, is out for the season after heat was discovered in a tendon following a schooling session.

Today’s Grimthorpe top weight is Benny Be Good who is trained at Saltburn by a pessimistic-sounding Keith Reveley. “The track and ground are in his favour, but handicap mark is not,” said the North Yorkshire handler whose son, James, has been handed the riding responsibilities.

Although Cheltenham is 10 days away, this is a day of National trials across the country. The 14-year-old Hello Bud, fifth at Aintree two years ago under Sam Twiston-Davies, lines up in the Greatwood Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Newbury.

It also features Fair Along, the dual-winner of Wetherby’s John Smith’s Hurdle. He will be ridden by Tom O’Brien, the horse’s likely Aintree partner, because Rhys Flint – his regular pilot – is too tall to make the National weight of 10st 4lb.

A former Northern Racing College graduate, the 20-year-old rider is preparing to make the switch to training – he will shortly become an assistant at the Herefordshire yard run by Scudamore’s grandfather and brother Michael.