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Scudamore bowled over by Ahoy Senor’s super display

There are moments in racing that can seem significant and it is rare to see as seasoned a jockey and trainer as Peter Scudamore so enthused about a horse as he was over Newbury victor Ahoy Senor.

The six-year-old is just starting to climb the ladder and eight-times champion jockey Scudamore, who is assistant to partner Lucinda Russell, could not hide his excitement after Derek Fox had brought him home 31 lengths clear of his three rivals in the Grade Two Ladbrokes John Francome Novices’ Chase.

A shock winner of an Aintree Grade One over hurdles in the spring, Ahoy Senor had fluffed his lines when set a stiff task on his chasing bow, unseating Fox in an intermediate chase at Carlisle won by Fiddlerontheroof.

Scudamore’s faith remained unshaken though and he has no doubts Ahoy Senor is destined for the top.

Ahoy Senor was not foot perfect at the water the first time
Ahoy Senor was not foot perfect at the water the first time (Steven Paston/PA)

He said: “You are (training) in Scotland and you seem a little bit of an underdog. And then, when I was watching him work, I said to the owners ‘this horse is as good as I have dealt with’, but then, when you get close to the time, I thought ‘I wish I hadn’t opened my mouth’!

“I wish I just said ‘he’s OK’, but you say it with belief at the time and you get nervous. He has got far bigger mountains to climb, but I have never seen a horse or any athlete with as much enthusiasm about his business.

“He just loves it. You watch him walk, he has a presence about him, he has his ears pricked. He is not stupid, he just wants to get on with it. How far he can go, I don’t know, but today was a nice marker to lay down in what looks a competitive division.

“I have been through all this before. After all these years in the game, it’s amazing how this can get you so wound up and so excited about a horse. They are very humbling.

“We took him to Aintree last season and he won and that could have been a fluke, but his jumping was obviously there. There is no fuss when he goes up the gallops, nothing can lay up with him. Either mine are all useless or he is just on a different level.”

Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell pictured at Aintree in April
Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell pictured at Aintree in April (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Scudamore partnered 1,678 winners in his riding days, counting two Champion Hurdles, a Queen Mother Champion Chase, four Welsh Grand Nationals and two Scottish Nationals among his haul, before going to start his training spell as assistant to Nigel Twiston-Davies.

The team enjoyed two Grand National winners with Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002) during his spell in Naunton, so Scudamore certainly has some solid points of reference in assessing Ahoy Senor’s ability.

Thistlecrack famously bolted up as a 1-8 favourite in this race in 2016 before landing the King George VI Chase and while Scudamore is uncertain how Ahoy Senor would compare to that particular star, he outlined his regard in no uncertain terms.

He said: “Whether he’s a Thistlecrack or not, I don’t know, but he is the best we’ve dealt with, including Earth Summit and Bindaree.

“It is what the game needs. He did it at Carlisle and I hadn’t really noticed it before, but the crowd gasps when he jumps and they did it here. Maybe he’s better on these flat tracks, but it was good.

“I suppose it is my stupidity to be in this game after so many years, but I said to Lucinda this morning, ‘this is the most important day of our lives’!

“She told me not to be so stupid, but that is what they make you feel. You are in awe of them, just to see what they can do, but he is in a hot division, so it is wonderful for us poor little people up in Scotland.”

Ahoy Senor strides on at Newbury
Ahoy Senor strides on at Newbury (Steven Paston/PA)

Russell nominated the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day as a possible next port of call, but Scudamore fully expects a Cheltenham Festival run to be on the cards sooner rather than later.

He added: “At the beginning of the season, we thought we might try to get him to something like the Towton Chase (at Wetherby), because I think that is a good step. Where he goes, I don’t know, but she’ll want to go to Kempton.

“I suppose he will go to Cheltenham one day. How we get him to Cheltenham one day, I don’t know. It will probably be this season. What has he run to today – 171? So, that’s big things.

“I’m not Paul Nicholls – I don’t have the experience to take these horses down that line.

“I thought he was better left than right and he has jumped to his right today. He jumped fantastic at Carlisle and he wouldn’t have won, but who cares?

“Luce (Russell) always wanted to go to Carlisle because of the ground and I want him to have horses upsides, otherwise we will get to Cheltenham and he will never see another horse. He does go up and down a hill and handled Carlisle perfectly well.

“It is a nice problem to have – it is dream. I’ll ring Mr Nicholls to see what I should do!”

Ahoy Senor makes all for impressive Newbury verdict

Ahoy Senor galloped his rivals into the ground with a dominating front-running display in the Ladbrokes John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury.

The Lucinda Russell-trained six-year-old unseated his rider on his chasing debut at Kelso four weeks ago and while he made the odd mistake here, he stuck to his task honourably to put his three rivals to the sword.

Mr Incredible, the 11-10 favourite for Irish trainer Henry de Bromhead, got with a length of Ahoy Senor in the home straight with four fences left, but that was as close as he got.

He was quickly brushed aside as the 5-2 shot bounded clear to score by 31 lengths in the hands of Derek Fox.

Ahoy Senor clears the Newbury water jump
Ahoy Senor clears the Newbury water jump (Steven Paston/PA)

Coral offer 6-1 from 20s about Ahoy Senor’s chance in next year’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and his trainer is no doubt about the quality of her charge, who won a Grade One over hurdles at Aintree last term.

She said: “When you start talking about equality, your lady trainer unfortunately started crying there. I am not sure if male trainers do that.

“I started crying up the home straight. Coming back in, to actually think you have a horse like that – it is just amazing to be connected to a horse like this.

“We have won a Grand National and that was very special, but this is a young horse who is just starting off.

“I was watching him through the race and he is still a novice. That is his sixth race. He has no experience and he jumped around there with such ability. It is phenomenal to be involved with a horse like this.

“We knew he was a good horse at home – you just have to look at his stride and the way he gallops.

“It is nice for the owners, Karen and Bruce Wymer. They have made such an effort – they drove down from Aberdeen. They were meant to get a flight and that was cancelled. It was a good effort from them – we are made tough in Scotland.

“I could not have dreamed he would win by 31 lengths, but I’d hope that he’d win – but not like that.”

A trip to Kempton at Christmas could now be on the cards.

Russell added: “I don’t know what we’ll do, but it is probably easier to plan things with good horses.

“He was entitled to win on his handicap mark. The Kauto Star at Kempton is on the radar and that is right-handed so that will probably suit him. He is not the finished article yet and we have to get his jumping a little tighter, but he seemed to improve up the home straight.

“He is just an amazing horse – phenomenal!”

Senor and Incredible chase Grade Two honours at Newbury

Ahoy Senor and Mr Incredible engage in an intriguing Anglo-Irish clash for the Ladbrokes John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

The Grade Two contest has an illustrious roll of honour, with subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River, his then stablemate Thistlecrack and Santini all winners in the last decade.

The Lucinda Russell-trained Ahoy Senor sets the standard in this year’s renewal, having claimed the notable scalp of Bravemansgame when landing a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree in the spring.

Due to a lack of suitable ground, the six-year-old was set a stiff task on his debut over fences at Carlisle, but was not done with in the Colin Parker Memorial when unseating Derek Fox two out.

Russell has been pleased with her stable star since and is looking forward to continuing his education in Berkshire.

She said: “We took Ahoy Senor down early so he missed any bad traffic. He had a canter round the track and a pick of grass this (Friday) morning and seems in really good form.

“We’re looking forward to it. He lacks a little bit of racing experience compared to the others, but he’s going really nicely at home.

“I think he’s probably come on for that Carlisle run, so fingers crossed he’ll be OK.”

The biggest threat to Ahoy Senor appears to be Mr Incredible, who represents the formidable combination of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.

Henry de Bromhead saddles Mr Incredible
Henry de Bromhead saddles Mr Incredible (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

The Westerner gelding looked a smart recruit to the chasing ranks when making a winning start in an eventful race at Naas three weeks ago – coming from a long way back to score with something to spare.

“He was really good at Naas – we were delighted with him. He won a fairly action-packed beginners chase,” said De Bromhead.

“It was either come here or supplement him for the Drinmore at Fairyhouse on Sunday as there’s very few options for him here between now and Christmas.”

Flash Collonges, who won three of his five starts over hurdles, debuts over the larger obstacles for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden, while Dan Skelton’s Wetherby winner Ashtown Lad completes the line-up.

Ashtown Lad at Wetherby
Ashtown Lad at Wetherby (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“He jumped very nicely at Wetherby and I think he’s stepped forward from that,” Skelton told Sky Sports Racing.

“We never got the chance to get him on the grass gallop before that due to the weather, he’s been in the interim and you should see an improved performance.

“Whether that’s good enough to go and win a Grade Two, time will tell, but I’m very happy with him.”

Listed honours are also up for grabs in the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Intermediate Hurdle – a race formerly known as the Gerry Feilden.

Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory won the Betfair Hurdle over the course and distance last season and made a successful reappearance at Ascot four weeks ago, while the Neil King-trained Onemorefortheroad is on a hat-trick following autumn wins at Stratford and Huntingdon.

King said: “This was the obvious race for him after Huntingdon. He loves a flat track and the better the ground, the better for him.

“We’re very lucky it’s cut up to this small field.

“It’s a step up in grade, but he’s earned it.”

Recent Cheltenham scorer Gowel Road (Nigel Twiston-Davies) is another with winning form at Newbury and Captain Morgs (Nicky Henderson) is the other hopeful.

Ahoy Senor poised to take up Newbury challenge

Lucinda Russell’s Ahoy Senor is on course for a second outing over fences as he looks likely to take up his entry in the Grade Two John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

The six-year-old was a 66-1 winner of the Grade One Sefton Novices Hurdle at Aintree last April when running over the smaller obstacles for only the second time in his career.

His chasing debut then came in the Listed Colin Parker Chase at Carlisle last month, where he showed much promise in travelling and jumping impressively before slipping on landing three fences from home and unseating rider Derek Fox.

The Newbury assignment is the probable next port of call, with good to soft conditions anticipated at the Berkshire track despite the current dry spell that has scuppered the plans of many soft ground horses.

“We’re entered at Newbury,” Russell said on Tuesday.

“We were on the phone to (clerk of the course) Keith Ottesen last night and he said the ground will be good to soft.

“There are a few showers forecast on Thursday night and Friday and if it did rain that would just play in our favour.

“I think he’s going to go down, hopefully he can build on what he did at Carlisle and get back novice chasing.”

Ahoy Senor (right) on his way to beating Bravemansgame
Ahoy Senor (right) on his way to beating Bravemansgame (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The bay’s Aintree victory last season came at the expense of the highly-regarded Bravemansgame, who has only further boosted both his own and Ahoy Senor’s reputations with two comfortable successes over fences, the most recent of which came at Haydock on Saturday.

“I think Bravemansgame is an awesome horse, his jumping was just superb,” Russell said.

“He is in front of us as far as experience goes but I was very impressed by him at Haydock on Saturday.”

Russell looking beyond Carlisle mishap with Ahoy Senor

Lucinda Russell is drawing the positives from Ahoy Senor’s chasing debut at Carlisle.

The six-year-old was a Grade One winner over hurdles at Aintree in April, making all to defy odds of 66-1 in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle in which he defeated the highly-regarded Bravemansgame by seven lengths.

On Sunday, the point-to-point winner switched to fences for the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase – in a quality field which included a clutch of classy second-season chasers.

Ahoy Senor led for much of the race and jumped with great flair until the second last, at which he seemed to stumble slightly on landing as he unseated Derek Fox.

Russell reports her stable star to be none the worse following the mishap, and she was impressed with his performance despite the eventual outcome.

“He’s obviously very onward bound and you worry that he’s only ever going to be able to stand off fences, but he’s very clever in getting near to them as well,” she said.

“I was delighted with the way he went – we set him a very tough test.

“He just stumbled on landing. It happens, and I suppose he is a novice – there were a lot of positives to take away from it.”

Ahoy Senor does not have another engagement pencilled in yet, but he is likely to run in a novice chase at the end of this month.

“It was unfortunate for him to stumble after that fence, but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue – we’re just looking forward to his next run,” added Russell.

“I don’t know where it’ll be, but it’ll be towards the end of the month. We’ll find a novice chase somewhere.”

Ahoy Senor’s return delayed as Russell resists Carlisle

Lucinda Russell has resisted the temptation to press ahead with Ahoy Senor’s planned chasing debut at Carlisle, on ground she has decided may be slightly too lively for the rising star’s first start of the season.

The point-to-point recruit was due to head to Cumbria on Thursday, for the Introducing Racing TV Novices’ Chase.

But Russell had already voiced her intention to first ensure conditions were suitable – and then after consulting clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright, she announced on Wednesday evening that Ahoy Senor will not run.

The Perth & Kinross trainer will therefore consider Wetherby next week as a possible first target for her Grade One-winning hurdler, or possibly Hexham.

She said: “I’ve spoken to Kirkland, who has been very good, and he says it’s good ground all over.

“At this stage of the season I just can’t risk it, and there are plenty of other options coming up. He could go to Wetherby or Hexham, with Wetherby (on Friday week) being the next option.”

Ahoy Senor finished second in an Ayr bumper on his debut under Rules in January before returning to the Scottish track to make a successful start over hurdles in March.

He was a widely unconsidered 66-1 shot when then stepped up to Grade One level for the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

But having produced a dominant front-running display to defeat the high-class Bravemansgame, the six-year-old heads into the autumn as perhaps the brightest jumping prospect in the north.

Russell said: “It’s funny, isn’t it – it becomes a responsibility.

“The better the horse is, it’s almost as though the less he belongs to you and the more you have a responsibility to everyone else.

Cadzand (right) in action at Southwell
Cadzand (right) in action at Southwell (Mike Egerton/PA)

“You obviously have a responsibility to the owners and the jockeys and everyone here in the yard, but also to everyone else as well that’s supporting.”

“He’s a lovely horse to school. He’s been really well produced from the British point-to-point field and he’s done loads of schooling before – it’s just natural to him.

“Hopefully this (going chasing) will take him to another level again.”

In Ahoy Senor’s absence, just three runners will go to post as Dan Skelton has also taken out Cadzand.

Deluxe Range (Sandy Thomson), Tupelo Mississippi (Brian Ellison) and Hardy Du Seuil (Jamie Snowden) – who made it no further than the first fence on his British bow at Wetherby last week – are the other hopefuls.

Russell’s anticipation mounts for Ahoy Senor’s chasing debut

Lucinda Russell is feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement at Ahoy Senor’s planned return to action at Carlisle on Thursday.

The point-to-point recruit finished second in an Ayr bumper on his debut under Rules in January before returning to the Scottish track to make a successful start over hurdles at the start of March.

Ahoy Senor was a widely unconsidered 66-1 shot when then stepped up to Grade One level for the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

But having produced a dominant front-running display to defeat the high-class Bravemansgame, the six-year-old heads into the autumn as perhaps the brightest jumping prospect in the north.

“It’s funny, isn’t it – it becomes a responsibility. The better the horse is, it’s almost as though the less he belongs to you and the more you have a responsibility to everyone else,” said Russell.

“You obviously have a responsibility to the owners and the jockeys and everyone here in the yard, but also to everyone else as well that’s supporting.”

Ahoy Senor is set to face four rivals in the two-and-a-half-mile Introducing Racing TV Novices’ Chase, although his participation in Cumbria is ground dependent.

Russell added: “We’ll see if they get any rain and what the situation is in the morning, but he only needs it to be on the soft side of good.

“If he did go, it’s half a mile shorter than ideal, but he won over two and a half miles over hurdles – and it will be good to get some experience into him and see where we go from there.

“He’s a lovely horse to school. He’s been really well produced from the British point-to-point field and he’s done loads of schooling before – it’s just natural to him.

“Hopefully this (going chasing) will take him to another level again.”

Cadzand (right) in action at Southwell
Cadzand (right) in action at Southwell (Mike Egerton/PA)

The biggest threat to Ahoy Senor appears to be Cadzand, who won three of his five starts over hurdles for Dan Skelton.

Deluxe Range (Sandy Thomson), Tupelo Mississippi (Brian Ellison) and Hardy Du Seuil (Jamie Snowden) – who made it no further than the first fence on his British bow at Wetherby last week – are the other hopefuls.

Ahoy Senor all set to start chasing career

Grade One-winning hurdler Ahoy Senor is set to make his novice-chasing debut in the coming weeks.

A £50,000 purchase after impressing in a wide-margin point-to-point victory in November, the Dylan Thomas gelding filled the runner-up spot in an Ayr bumper on his first start for Lucinda Russell, before going one better on his hurdling bow at the Scottish venue at the start of March.

Ahoy Senor was a widely unconsidered 66-1 shot when stepped up to the highest level at Aintree the following month, but produced a dominant front-running performance to ensure he heads into the new campaign as one of the most exciting prospects in the north.

Russell is keen for her stable star to make a low-key beginning to his career over fences – identifying a race at the Charlie Hall meeting at Wetherby as a potential starting point.

She said: “I’m really pleased with him. He’s summered very well and is in full work.

“He’s just a couple of pieces of work off a race really. Chasing is definitely the plan, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Wherever Ahoy Senor begins his chasing career, expectations will inevitably be high.

Russell added: “It’s quite a responsibility having a horse like him, but it’s a good situation to be in.

“We might start low and go to Hexham or Carlisle or Wetherby. There’s a three-mile novice chase at the Charlie Hall meeting, so maybe we’ll go to Wetherby for that.

“There’s no pressure. We’ll start small and see how we get on.”

Mighty Thunder records famous ‘home win’ in Scottish National

Mighty Thunder provided Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell with victory in the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

Trained in Kinross by Russell and her partner Peter Scudamore, Mighty Thunder was an 8-1 chance for his latest National assignment after winning the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh and finishing second in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on his last two starts.

Rounding the home turn, it looked like Sandy Thomson could saddle the first two home, with 7-1 favourite Dingo Dollar and his stablemate The Ferry Master clear at the head of affairs.

However, Mighty Thunder responded to jockey Tom Scudamore’s urgings to close the gap and reeled in Dingo Dollar on the run-in to land a popular success by three-quarters of a length.

Irish raider Mister Fogpatches beat The Ferry Master to third place.

Mighty Thunder is the first home-trained winner of Scotland’s most famous jumps race since Merigo in 2012.

Russell said: “I’m delighted for the horse and his owners. It’s mixed emotions because it’s sad for Blair Campbell missing the ride due to injury, as he has kind of produced the horse, but these things happen and it’s fantastic Tom could ride and keep it in the family.

Trainer Lucinda Russell with Mighty Thunder
Trainer Lucinda Russell with Mighty Thunder (Jeff Holmes/PA)

“It’s been a tough time through Covid for the owners as they provide alcohol to pubs and clubs and things, but this will certainly brighten up their day.

“This is the horse’s first season over fences. He’s such a laid-back horse during a race, you can come with a late run at the end – he’s just made for these long-distance races really.”

The victory comes just nine days after Ahoy Senor claimed Grade One glory at Aintree for the team.

Russell has also won the Grand National on Merseyside with One For Arthur in 2017, while Brindisi Breeze was a Cheltenham Festival winner for the yard a few years ago.

Asked where winning the Scottish National ranks in her achievements, Russell added: “It would have to be second to the Grand National, but it’s a pretty good second place.

“I’m very proud of the way all the Scottish horses ran in it. They’re putting northern horses back on the map and that’s what we wanted.”

The trainer hopes Magic Thunder could be a realistic contender for the Randox Grand National at Aintree in 12 months’ time.

She said: “We’ll take it a step at a time, but I think we’ll probably go for the Becher Chase (in December) and see if he takes to the fences at Aintree.

“If he does then great, and if he doesn’t, we’ll aim at the Scottish National again.”

There was a sad postscript to the four-mile contest after it was confirmed the Sandy Forster-trained Claud And Goldie had collapsed and died in the pulling-up area after passing the post in ninth place.

Mighty performance could keep Scottish National at home

Lucinda Russell relies principally on the improving Mighty Thunder as she supplies two of the nine contenders bidding to keep the Scottish Grand National at home.

The big Ayr prize has headed south of the border in each of the seven renewals since Merigo posted his second success in the space of three years for Scotland in 2012.

It was a significantly longer wait before then for the home contingent too, but Scottish trainers have collectively readied a team which can have high hopes on Sunday of resisting the big-gun travellers.

Russell’s Big River will accompany his stablemate, while Harriet Graham’s Aye Right is likely to start favourite – and Sandy Thomson’s duo of Dingo Dollar and The Ferry Master, Nick Alexander’s top-weight Lake View Lad, Sandy Forster’s Claud And Goldie and Iain Jardine’s Cool Mix and Dino Boy join the gathering of the clans in the 22-runner marathon.

Russell, who admits to concerns about forecast good ground for Big River, has a more obvious chance with Mighty Thunder – already winner of the Edinburgh National and second in the Midlands version this season.

“He’s a very straightforward horse, still only a novice chaser – but I’d like to think we’ve taught him well at home,” she said of the eight-year-old

“We gave him an extra season over hurdles, because his jumping wasn’t that brilliant, and I think that’s benefited him.

“He hasn’t run that often, but he’s certainly taking himself to the heights.”

Russell – who claimed the Aintree National in 2017 with One For Arthur – is hoping Mighty Thunder, who will be ridden by Tom Scudamore in place of the injured Blair Campbell, can continue to provide a glimpse of a brightening future.

She added: “He’s another exciting young horse for us, and I think that’s what we’re having to base our hopes and dreams on – these young horses coming through now and producing properly.

“I wouldn’t want it to be good to firm, because I think he’s a nice horse for the future. But he’s a little bit more flexible (than Big River), in terms he’ll go on good ground as well.”

Among the very credible raiding party is Paul Nicholls’ Soldier Of Love, Brian Ellison’s Eider Chase hero Sam’s Adventure and Notachance from Alan King’s yard.

Some Chaos is another notable opponent for the Russell yard.

The 10-year-old is trained by Michael Scudamore – son of Peter, who is Russell’s partner and assistant.

“He’s in great form,” said the Herefordshire handler.

Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell will be cheering for the home contingent on Sunday
Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell will be cheering for the home contingent on Sunday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We tried him over hurdles the last couple of times, but he’s not the same horse doing that.

“Hopefully his last run will have blown away the cobwebs for Sunday.”

Graham, meanwhile, is hoping Aye Right can make light of his big weight, prove himself at the marathon trip and gain overdue reward for his admirable but winless season.

“He has been so consistent, and he would be a deserving winner,” said the Jedburgh trainer.

“It would be really special for the owners Geoff and Elspeth (Adam), who are the ones who invested him as a three-year-old and have been very loyal to me and loyal to (jockey) Callum (Bewley).

“They are proper Scottish owners, keeping those horses trained in Scotland – and that’s what we need people to be doing up here.

“We don’t want them sending them to Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. We want good Scottish horses trained in Scotland – and it would be great, very deserving for the horse, and we’d be just totally made up.”

Graham is mindful of another tough task, but confident Aye Right is in fine form.

“We’re all ready to go and excited about it,” she added.

“He’s very well, and I think the ground will be right for him.

“It would have been lovely to be going off 10st 12lb, rather than 11st 11lb – that would be my only negative.

“He does like Ayr – he’s won there twice. Obviously there is a question mark about him staying, but we feel he will – he certainly finishes his races the way he starts them, he seems to me to warm up.

“He’s got that lovely galloping rhythm that makes you think he should stay. That’s the whole reason for stepping him up to nearly four miles.

“But that question will be answered on Sunday.”

Bewley returns, having had to miss Aye Right’s placed effort at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

“Callum knows him really well – it’s just twice he hasn’t ridden him (in 23 career starts),” said Graham.

“Obviously that’s an advantage.

“The Cheltenham race became quite messy. It didn’t go to plan for us, and he was in among the bunch with people jumping into him – and I think that just shows how tough he was, because he still ran on at the end.

“He is a really tough horse – whereas lots of horses might have got upset about that and stopped.

“We’re hopeful, but we’re realistic as well. It’s a long way and unknown territory.

“There’s a lot of nice horses in the race off lower weights, and there’s an argument for the lot of them – those ones carrying two stones less.

“There’s lots that have every right to win the race – but unless we are there, we’re not going to, so we’re giving it a go.”

Sam’s Adventure is another obvious threat, following his dour victory at Newcastle – but his trainer admits softer ground would have been preferable.

“Good to soft will be fine,” said Ellison.

“He would have won one day on good to soft at Kelso (in a novice hurdle won by Mighty Thunder), but he ducked out at the last.

“Basically, the horse is so well in himself. So we said we’d go for the Scottish National.

“The Midlands National probably just came a bit too quick after Newcastle. But he’s in great form – I couldn’t be happier with him. It’s just the ground (worry) obviously.

“That is an issue. He hasn’t had many chances on that kind of ground, because we’ve always thought he wanted it soft, heavy – which he does. He loves it.

“His form going into the race is great.”

The well-fancied Dingo Dollar was also a Newcastle winner, on stable debut for Thomson last month.

The Berwickshire trainer said: “This was the plan before Newcastle.

“It was always the plan to have a run, and hope it would be good enough, and then he would run in the Scottish National.

“He was favourite two years ago, I think (when with Alan King), but they didn’t run because of the firm ground.

“It should be all right this time, though.

“Unless you’ve run in a National, there’s very few horses that have run over this trip. But you would have to say he looks like he’ll stay all right.

“He’s obviously run some nice races, and I always knew what the plan was (when he arrived) – and fortunately so far, it’s coming to fruition.”

Champion jockey Brian Hughes will ride Dingo Dollar, with Sean Quinlan on The Ferry Master.

Thomson said of the latter: “There’s probably more of a question mark about him staying.

“But I thought we’d go at this stage of his career – because if he obviously doesn’t stay, then we will know that’s not where he’ll be campaigned, and be at three miles (instead).”

Aye Right leads Scottish charge in search of home National victory

Scottish trainers will be strongly represented at Ayr on Sunday as they try to keep their own Grand National trophy at home for the first time since 2012.

Harriet Graham’s Aye Right is ante-post favourite for the Coral-sponsored showpiece, but must concede weight to all his 22 opponents following his string of placed efforts in hugely-competitive races.

Graham trains a small stable of eight alongside her role as clerk of the course at Musselburgh and Perth, and has overseen the Ayr showpiece herself too when covering for maternity leave.

The Jedburgh handler describes Aye Right as “the star of the yard”, although victory has eluded the eight-year-old this season despite his series of gallant performances.

Aye Right (right) finishing second behind Cloth Cap in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury Racecourse
Aye Right (right) finishing second behind Cloth Cap in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Aye Right was third behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, second in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy and again runner-up in Doncaster’s Listed Sky Bet Chase.

Also third in the Ultima Chase at Cheltenham last month, he is one of nine Scottish-trained runners in this weekend’s big handicap.

Aye Right’s rivals travelling north include Sue Smith’s surprise Ultima winner Vintage Clouds and Brian Ellison’s Eider Chase hero Sam’s Adventure – as well as Paul Nicholls’ Soldier Of Love, Dan Skelton’s Oldgrangewood and Notachance from Alan King’s yard.

“I’m really, really proud and privileged to be training him,” Graham said, on a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“Let’s remember his owners, Geoff and Elspeth Adam, who are Scottish as well – and Geoff has had horses in training in Scotland for many, many years.

“He’s right behind keeping his horses in Scotland to be trained – he’s been incredibly loyal to me and to the jockey, Callum Bewley, who’s also Scottish.

“I’m probably the least Scottish of the lot of them, having been brought up in Devon, but I have lived in Scotland now longer than I’ve lived in England.”

Graham will be up against some of the most powerful yards in Britain – but she believes running a smaller operation has its benefits, and is not intimidated by her high-flying opponents.

“We’re taking on the people with the numbers, which we obviously haven’t got,” she said.

“I think small trainers can give the individual horse much more hands-on contact – I don’t think anybody should ever be frightened of going to Cheltenham or Aintree from a small yard if you’ve got a good enough horse.

“We are doing it as a smaller trainer because we want to stay small – we don’t want large numbers.

“I want to know my horses and I want to know my owners really well. It’s just a different model of going into it.”

The community surrounding Graham’s yard is equally engaged in the success of Aye Right, having followed his near-misses – and he will be well supported as he looks to return the title to Scottish soil.

“It’s a real racing area here, and everyone’s into their horses,” she said.

“They’re all asking after him and saying he deserves to win one.

“When you look at his form he definitely does – there’s a really nice, good feeling behind him.”

Although Graham is naturally hoping Aye Right can cross the line in front, she would be delighted with any Scottish winner – and, with a smile, even served up a cheeky reference to home domination akin to last month’s Irish success at Cheltenham, which caused such consternation for many in Britain.

Mighty Thunder, ridden by Blair Campbell, on the way to finishing second in the Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter racecourse
Mighty Thunder was runner-up in the Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter (Mike Egerton/PA)

“It would be lovely if it was Aye Right – but it would be lovely if it was another one of the Scottish trainers as well,” she said.

“Maybe we could have the one-two-three-four – with Aye Right number one!

“That would be a good headline, ‘What are the English going to do about the Scottish runners?!'”

Prominent among others capable of delivering a home victory is Lucinda Russell, who runs both Mighty Thunder and Big River.

Kerry Lads was second for the Kinross trainer back in 2004, and she would love to go one better.

“When I first started training back in 1995 it was always the aim,” she said.

“It’s a race over four miles, and I tend to train stayers – even back in those days – so it was always the aim for the horses.

“Kerry Lads got us very close. He was second and placed a couple of times, so it’s always been an aim.

“I think it’s a race that would just complete my CV. It’d be rather nice.”

Merigo provided the most recent home win, taking the race in 2010 and 2012 – and before that, Scottish trainers had been out of luck for decades.

Russell, who became only the second Scottish trainer to win the Grand National at Aintree when One For Arthur prevailed in 2017, has since noticed an increase in investment in the racing industry north of the border.

“I do think that four or five years ago, racing was really in the doldrums up here,” she said.

“I think it’s really picked up – we’re attracting a lot more media exposure, which is great.

“The owners have invested money in really nice horses, (and) the trainers have upgraded their facilities.

“It’s not just going to be this year. I think in the future you’ll find a lot more Scottish influence in the Scottish National and in the big handicaps.

Grand National winner One For Arthur pictured with Lucinda Russell at her yard in Kinross, Scotland
Grand National winner One For Arthur with Lucinda Russell at her yard in Kinross (Ian Rutherford/PA)

“It’s fantastic and it’s credit to the owners who stick with us and look after us and keep investing in horses with us.

“Hopefully it’s the start and it will continue – and it won’t be long before we have more Scottish winners of the Scottish National and of the other big races down south as well.”

Russell has also noticed an increased sense of camaraderie between northern and Scottish trainers, particularly after her 66-1 success with Ahoy Senor in the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

“I think that there is a really good bond between the Scottish trainers and the northern trainers, and there’s quite a buzz about the place,” she said.

“When you have a winner at Aintree in a Grade One and your peers come up and say well done to you, rather than being too competitive about it, I think it’s just a better feeling. Is that (as a result of) Covid? I’m not sure, but I think it might be.

“We’re a little bit more emotional and a bit softer about things, realising that we’ve got to do it for the good of the sport up in here in Scotland.

“We’ve got to keep supporting it and promoting it, whoever it is that’s doing the promoting.”

Lake View Lad tops 31 in contention for Scottish National

Early Aintree faller Lake View Lad tops 31 remaining hopefuls for the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

Nick Alexander’s grey, who made it as far as the first fence in Saturday’s Grand National, may be granted the opportunity to make amends in the Scottish equivalent eight days later.

Lake View Lad will carry top weight of 11st 12lb if taking part on Sunday, just above Harriet Graham’s hugely consistent top handicapper and new big-race favourite Aye Right in a race which appears set to feature a strong home challenge.

In the notable absence from Monday’s confirmations of the well-touted Galvin – Northern Ireland trainer Ian Ferguson’s Cheltenham Festival winner, unbeaten over fences this season – Takingrisks may yet bid to retain the crown he claimed in the last running of this race in 2019.

Nicky Richards’ veteran was pulled up behind Minella Times at Aintree two days ago but features among the possibles – alongside Sue Smith’s shock Cheltenham Festival winner Vintage Clouds, in the Trevor Hemmings colours also worn by Lake View Lad.

Others who catch the eye, in a race whose maximum field is 30, are Paul Nicholls’ trio of Truckers Lodge, Highland Hunter and Soldier Of Love as well as Brian Ellison’s Eider Chase winner Sam’s Adventure and Notachance for Alan King.

Lucinda Russell bolsters the chances of an overdue home success, with her Midlands Grand National runner-up and Edinburgh National winner Mighty Thunder the likeliest of two contenders from her Perth and Kinross yard ahead of Big River.

She said: “Both Mighty Thunder and Big River are in there.

“Big River needs soft ground, so we’d have to have a wet end to the week (for him to run).

“Mighty Thunder is in very good form and has come out of his Uttoxeter race very well, and I think he’s suited by these marathon trips.

“We’re just getting excited now. We’ve got a week to get him right for Sunday.”

The Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle is also a feature race on the card which has been put back 24 hours because of the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh on Saturday.

Iain Jardine’s Voix Du Reve tops the weights in that limited handicap, for which there were 12 confirmations.

Among them are three more for Nicholls – Sussex Champion Hurdle winner Diego Du Charmil, Scaramanga and Thyme White.

Neil Mulholland’s Milkwood is the likely favourite after finishing third in the County Hurdle.

Russell mulling Punchestown option for Aintree hero Ahoy Senor

Ahoy Senor may be heading to the Punchestown Festival this month as Lucinda Russell ponders one more outing over hurdles for her impressive Aintree winner.

Russell has made no secret of the intention that British point-to-point graduate Ahoy Senor’s future will lie over fences as of the start of next season.

But after the six-year-old’s shock yet decisive success from a field of top staying novices in Grade One company at Aintree last week, his Scottish trainer will consider heading to Punchestown for the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle on April 28.

Ahoy Senor was among a clutch of British entries published on Monday for the five-day meeting, which will feature many of the stars of this spring’s major Festivals in a finale to the National Hunt season.

“It won’t do him any harm to get a bit more experience,” said Russell.

“But he really is a (future) chaser, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

A decision over whether to travel has therefore yet to be made.

Russell added: “It’s 50-50 really. We’ve just got him back into work and we’ll find out how he is.

“I’d prefer it to be ground on the soft side. So no firm decision has been made (yet) – we’ll see how we get on over the next week.

“Maybe it’s being a bit greedy – but then again, if he is in good form, he is a racehorse and that’s what he’s been bought to do.”

So far, three days after the lightly-raced Ahoy Senor’s seven-length win from Bravemansgame, he appears to have recovered well from what was his third run of the campaign – and just the second hurdles start of his career.

Russell said: “He’s fine. He’s a remarkable horse really – very inexperienced race-wise, but just a very straightforward horse to deal with.

“We knew he was a very good horse. We only bought him in the autumn, and he missed out on the early-season novices.

“He’s been very well-prepared, and had a full season in training before he ran in his point-to-point – so we always knew physically he was going to cope with it.

“It was just whether he would mentally – but he is just very straightforward.”

Elsewhere among the Punchestown entries, Henry de Bromhead’s champions Minella Indo, Put The Kettle On and Honeysuckle are all in the reckoning – and Monkfish and Envoi Allen are on course to clash too in a test of their superstar potential.

Gold Cup hero Minella Indo is one of 11 currently in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup – along with Willie Mullins’ Al Boum Photo, dual winner of Cheltenham’s signature event, and his stablemate Kemboy, successful in the most recent edition of this race in 2019.

Gold Cup winner Minella Indo may be in action again at Punchestown
Gold Cup winner Minella Indo may be in action again at Punchestown (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The opposition for Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On, in the William Hill Champion Chase, includes Dan and Harry Skelton’s Nube Negra – who got closest to the mare in second at Cheltenham – and Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi. The latter’s stablemate and Ryanair Chase winner Allaho and Joseph O’Brien’s Aintree Grade One star Fakir D’oudairies also hold alternative Gold Cup entries.

On the same card, which opens the meeting, dual Cheltenham Festival winners Monkfish – unbeaten over fences for Mullins – and De Bromhead’s Envoi Allen, who lost his perfect record when falling in the Marsh Novices’ Chase last month, are among 12 in the Dooley Insurance Champion Novice over an extended three miles.

Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter, winner of Cheltenham’s Stayers’ Hurdle, tops 25 possibles in Punchestown’s Grade One equivalent – and Envoi Allen has the option of dropping back to two miles, with both Mullins’ Energumene and Nicky Henderson’s Arkle and Aintree hero Shishkin among the potential opposition in the Ryanair Novice Chase.

The Paddy Power Champion Hurdle could feature a rematch between Honeysuckle and Henderson’s 2020 Cheltenham winner Epatante – who was third this year – with her stablemate Buveur D’Air and Gary Moore’s Goshen also potential British challengers.

Ahoy Senor springs 66-1 surprise in Sefton Novices’ Hurdle

The Grand National-winning team of Lucinda Russell and Derek Fox teamed up at Aintree once more to win the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle with Ahoy Senor at 66-1.

Having just his second start over hurdles, having won at Ayr last month, Ahoy Senor made every yard of the running.

As his challengers dropped away one by one in the straight there was only the favourite, Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame, who brought the strongest form to the table, able to get close before the final flight.

Ahoy Senor was not for stopping, though, and the lightly-raced six-year-old went away again on the run-in to score by seven lengths and his future looks very bright.

Fox, who won the 2017 National with the Russell-trained One For Arthur, said: “It’s unbelievable as he’s only had the one run over hurdles before.

“He works so well at home and everyone thinks a lot of him. I’m delighted.

“He’s a very talented horse. He does everything with so much ease and he’s a pleasure to ride – I’m very lucky to be on him.

“This is my first winner back here since the Grand National on One For Arthur (in 2017). It was brilliant.

“He’s a big horse and you wouldn’t to risk him on ground that was too fast. He does go on good ground. We just want it to be safe enough for him because he’s so big and you don’t want to risk injuring him. That’s why we took him out at Hexham.”

Russell said: “He’s just a super horse who gallops and jumps. I saw him win his point-to-point and he did the same thing there.

“It was only his second hurdle race today, but there was such confidence behind him at home. I just saw he was 66-1.

“I can’t believe we managed to get him beaten in a bumper, but jumping has taken him to another level and I can’t wait for him to go chasing.

Ahoy Senor looks to have a huge future
Ahoy Senor looks to have a huge future (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“We bought him for £50,000, which is a lot of money, but not for a winning a point-to-pointer.”

She added: “It’s great for Derek to ride another big winner and great for the whole yard at home.

“He’s half-owned by my dad, who is 93. He’s found it hard through lockdown, like many people have. The racing has really kept him going, so it’s nice for him to watch it today.

“He is physically a bigger horse than Brindisi Breeze. He has already schooled over fences and jumps well, so I would hope next year is going to be really exciting.”

Golan Fortune seeks Midlands National riches

Golan Fortune will bid to vindicate trainer Phil Middleton’s judgement in the Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National.

Buckinghamshire trainer Middleton rerouted the durable nine-year-old to Uttoxeter after deciding against an engagement in the National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham this week.

Run over a trip of four and a quarter miles, Saturday’s marathon offers an alternative to next month’s Grand National at Aintree – a race for which Golan Fortune holds an entry but may not make the final field of 40.

Golan Fortune and Kielan Woods (right) win the Lady Buttons Memorial Beginners’ Chase at Ludlow
Golan Fortune and Kielan Woods (right) win the Lady Buttons Memorial Beginners’ Chase at Ludlow (David Davies/PA)

“I entered him for Cheltenham and I changed my mind and thought this was the race for him, so I cancelled his Cheltenham engagement so I wouldn’t get tempted,” said Middleton.

“He’s absolutely buzzing at home – I think he’s the best I’ve had him all season.

“I’m pretty sure he’ll get the trip. He jumps well, (and) I really, really fancy him – he’ll run a massive race.”

Middleton has not abandoned all hope either that Golan Fortune may yet be granted a run at Aintree.

“The plan all along was to go to the Grand National,” he added.

“I’ve always thought he was a Grand National horse – but rated 142, he’s about a 4-1 shot to get in.

“There’s nine on 142 – and if he got to the top of the pecking order on 142 he might just scrape in. If he won the Midlands National he would be at the top of that pecking order.

“It’s a nice race to win and I could not be more pleased with him.”

Golan Fortune was last seen finishing fourth when reverting to hurdles at Kempton last month, after a spell over fences which included one victory and some very creditable performances in high-calibre contests.

Winning his first chase at Ludlow in December, he was swiftly upgraded to top-flight company in Kempton’s Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

He finished fourth there behind Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue, as the 40-1 outsider of the field, and went on to be third of three but beaten under seven lengths in the Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

The form of both races was boosted in Wednesday’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, with Warwick runner-up Fiddlerontheroof finishing second behind Monkfish and in third The Big Breakaway – who was four and a quarter lengths ahead of Golan Fortune in the Kauto Star.

“He was only beaten about six lengths in the Kauto Star when Kielan (Woods, jockey) fired him at the last,” said Middleton.

“I think he made a bit too much use of him there, or we’d have finished close to The Big Breakaway, and I’m sure we’d have beaten Fiddlerontheroof at Warwick if he hadn’t made a howler at the third-last.

“I think it’s a hell of a boost.”

Among Golan Fortune’s weekend rivals is Lucinda Russell’s Mighty Thunder a proven winner over a long-distance trip after triumphing in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh.

Victorious by 20 lengths on that occasion, the eight-year-old turns his attention to the Uttoxeter prize after sidestepping the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir at Cheltenham to take on this extreme trip.

“We had the option of here or Cheltenham, but I think the four miles should should suit him,” said Russell.

“He’s been in very good form since Musselburgh. I think the distance is right, and the flat track at Uttoxeter will help.”

Mighty Thunder has run four times over fences and won three, his only chasing defeat coming when he was a distant sixth at Kelso in December.

“He’s a funny horse because there’s three completed starts he’s won over fences, but equally he’s thrown in a real shocker at Kelso when he seemed to sulk,” added Russell.

“He’s got a bit of brain there and he’s a smart chap, but I think that over four miles he loves it because he’s not under so much pressure.

Nick Williams' 2018 Cheltenham Festival winner Coo Star Sivola is among the contenders at Uttoxeter
Nick Williams’ 2018 Cheltenham Festival winner Coo Star Sivola is among the contenders at Uttoxeter (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Although he’s a novice, I think it’s worthwhile giving him the chance.”

Russell is sure the forecast soft ground will suit her charge after his recent performances in similar conditions.

“As a hurdler we always felt he needed it to be good or good to soft, yet he’s actually won on heavy ground round Hexham,” she said.

“They’re still calling it soft at the moment, and that’s just perfect.”

Also due to line up in the race is last year’s hero Truckers Lodge, with Paul Nicholls also represented by 13-2 chance Highland Hunter.

Jonjo O’Neill’s Time To Get Up heads the market, while Nick Williams’ Coo Star Sivola and Venetia Williams’ Achille are also both prominent – and Nicky Martin’s regular marathon contender The Two Amigos is back for more, over the longest trip he has yet faced.