Peter Scudamore challenges Ahoy Senor to show potential in Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby

PETER SCUDAMORE’S nerves – even trepidation – are indicative of the high esteem in which he holds Ahoy Senor ahead of today’s William Hill Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby.

This was Ahoy Senor and Derek Fox winning the John Francome Novices' Chase at Newbury.
This was Ahoy Senor and Derek Fox winning the John Francome Novices' Chase at Newbury.

The former eight-times champion jockey was involved with many great horses when rewriting racing’s record books in the saddle. More recently, he and his partner Lucinda Russell saddled One For Arthur to Grand National glory in 2017.

But today’s Grade Two test will reveal if the hype over Ahoy Senor, a Grade One winner over hurdles at Aintree, is realistic.

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The novice chaser does hold a tentative entry in next month’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, though the Grade One Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase is the more likely assignment at the National Hunt Festival.

This was Ahoy Senor and Derek Fox winning the John Francome Novices' Chase at Newbury.

But Scudamore, 63, simply wants to see a slicker round of jumping after Ahoy Senor was far from fluent behind Bravesmangame in the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

“When you’re dealing with a horse as good as he (Ahoy Senor) is, they are nerve-wracking times,” Scudamore told The Yorkshire Post yesterday. “He seems very well in himself but he’s got to go and do it.

“After my experience of hundreds of years in racing, the fact that I do still get nervous shows what racing, and good horses, like Ahoy Senor, mean to us all.

“I’m hoping he brushes up his jumping a bit.

This was Ahoy Senor and Derek Fox winning the John Francome Novices' Chase at Newbury.

“I still think he is still learning his job so fingers crossed he comes home safe and we take it from there.”

Scudamore believes the drying ground at Wetherby will bring out the best in Ahoy Senor and jockey Derek Fox.

But what he – and racing – want to know is whether the horse’s emphatic win at Newbury last November in a novice chase named after Scudamore’s great weighing room adversary John Francome was a one-off – or the emergence of a prodigious new steeplechasing star and standard-bearer for Northern and Scottish racing.

And the Towton will offer a benchmark with Dan and Harry Skelton’s well-regarded Ashtown Lad, a remote fourth in the Newbury race when Ahoy Senor’s jumping and galloping in the home straight was remorseless and relentless, amongst the odds-on favourite’s three rivals.

Peter Scudamore, the eight-times champion jockey, with his son Tom.

In all his years in racing – Scudamore’s father Michael won a Grand National and Gold Cup while his son Tom enjoyed many special days in the saddle on Thistlecrack – he has not seen such a breathtaking performance by a three-mile novice chaser. “I couldn’t believe it,” he ventured. “Sometimes, it looked too good to be true.”

Yet, while Scudamore and Russell were disappointed by Ahoy Senor’s reverse at Kempton, they believe the right-handed track did not suit Ahoy Senor and identified the Towton as the ideal prep race for Cheltenham. “It looks a competitive race, but if he can’t run very well, he’s not as good as we think he is,” said Scudamore. “We’re nervously looking forward to it. I thought he was good going to Kempton and I think he’s good now. I’m just hoping he can get a bit of bounce off the ground and jump a bit slicker. If he can do that, he’ll run an excellent race.”

How Ahoy Senor performs will determine the horse’s Cheltenham target. “You read about all these horses like Bob Olinger and the Willie Mullins horse (Galopin Des Champs) in the novice races – there’s lots of horses,” Scudamore emphasised. “We just want to get this weekend over with and see where we go from there.”

The biggest threat to Ahoy Senor appears to be Saint Palais, who steps up in class after a hat-trick of handicap wins for trainer Richard Bandey. He will be ridden by Harry Bannister whose family own The Coniston Hotel in The Yorkshire Dales.

But Scudamore is just grateful that he – and Russell – have another class horse at their Perthshire stables five years after One For Arthur came from last to first to win the National.

“Arthur was yesterday, and while not diminishing from what he did, today’s the day and it is using the experience we had with Arthur for the big races now,” he added with pensive optimism.