Confidence building as Ahoy Senor prepares for Cheltenham Festival
Lucinda Russell is optimistic about Ahoy Senor’s chances of turning the tables on Bravemansgame when the pair face off again at the Cheltenham Festival next week.
The Scottish coach will send his stable star in pursuit of first-year advisory Brown novices on day two of the jump race ‘Olympics’ to renew his rivalry with one of the champion coach’s best chances of winning Paul Nicholls next week.
Seven-year-old Ahoy Senor, nicknamed Hank in the yard, has been one of the stars of the novice fighter ranks so far this season, winning twice in tier two and his only loss since his starts ended at the hands of Bravemansgame in the Grade One Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
However, Ahoy Senor was victorious when the pair met over hurdles in freshman company at Aintree last season and Russell will hope his charge can prevail again in what is likely to prove a test of tougher endurance at Cheltenham.
Russell said: “He has a fantastic heart and he’s just a great horse. I think we overcooked him before Kempton but we didn’t this time. He trained well at Kelso la last week and he had his last job on Tuesday morning. Derek (Fox, jockey) had a nice smile on his face after that and I think everyone is very happy with him going into next week.
“We have never been afraid to take the best horses because he is a very good horse and his jump is very mature. I think Bravemansgame was more Kempton’s finished article than we were, but hopefully we’ve improved a bit since then.
“I think the course will suit him. It’s going to be ups and downs and a test and that’s what it’s meant to be – a novice’s best test. It should be a fantastic race and it’s certainly not like Kempton so hopefully that will work in our favour.
Ahoy Senor mixed him with the best on the fences from his hunting debut, which came in the Colin Parker Listed Intermediate Pursuit at Carlisle in October – which has a history of producing smart winners.
Russell’s charge eventually knocked his driver down on that occasion – with the race set to be won by Fiddlerontheroof – but he showed plenty of promise on the day.
She said: “This lineup is 50-50 between me and Scu (partner and assistant coach Peter Scudamore) and I’m really pissed off on the pitch.
“We hadn’t taken it to Wetherby a few days before because we felt the ground was too fast but we knew there was a bit of pressure going up and down so we went to Carlisle for the track and the floor. It wasn’t so much the competition of the day as it was an education for him and I think we achieved what we wanted. That’s where the owners (Carron Wymer and Peter Russell) have been so good, he’s their first class horse and they’ve been fantastic and happy for us to go wherever we want.
“There is one thing we took away from this day. You only watch your own horse in a race, of course, and he jumped a fence amazingly down the hill, which made me gasp. I heard the crowd do the same and couldn’t believe the crowd was staring at my horse with the same intensity. It was kind of the same in Newbury and it’s just amazing. He’s a horse that people seem to be hanging on to.”
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Ahoy Senor built on that first outing by recording a stunning 31-length win in the pursuit of second-year novice John Francome at Newbury a month later and Russell revealed it was an emotional day for her personally.
She explained: “Newbury was a weird thing because we knew Henry of Bromhead’s (Mr Incredible) horse was decent. On the first homer Hank just found his feet and that was just the end of the game. I was pretty emotional that day, my dad Peter is a co-owner and he wasn’t doing too well and I think it all played out too, so it was just a great day.”
When asked what made Ahoy Senor such a good novice hunter, she added: “I think it’s his power and relentless gallop that sets him apart and that’s why he was so good at Aintree. Last year.
“I can understand why he was such a big prize, but I don’t think it’s such a big surprise to us because he just has this relentless canter and looking at him on the canters he has a fantastic stride. He doesn’t doesn’t need to run in front, but it suits him to get into that good run and jump rhythm.
“Derek is a fantastic jockey and he is very calm and focused. He’s not a man to show his emotions but knowing him I think he’s very happy with the horse and is looking forward to next week.”
Ahoy Senor could have headed straight for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup and his manager admits it was an option she would have seriously considered had he performed better over Christmas.
She said: “I think if he had won at Kempton we would have considered giving the Gold Cup a bit more of a shot. He looked pretty new to Kempton so we thought we’d better stick with it. to a newbie business.”
Peter Scudamore added: “There is an argument that novices are potentially better than the current crop of stayers. The Press Man looks fantastic and Bob Olinger could be absolutely anything, so this might be one last chance for us yet (to win a Grade One at Cheltenham with this horse). It wasn’t a big head, it was just us trying to make a rational decision on the best race to aim for.”
Russell has around 80 horses in training at his yard in Kinross near Perth, with his only Cheltenham Festival winner to date with Brindisi Breeze in the 2012 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
The yard will descend to Prestbury Park with two excellent chances this year, with novice Corach Rambler improving in Tuesday’s Ultima Handicap Chase over three miles.
The eight-year-old is guaranteed to take part in Tuesday’s race after slipping to the bottom of the weights in the six-day confirmation phase and winning on the track at the international meeting in December, Russell hopes to hold on its own as part of a competitive renewal.
She said: “It’s a hot race and he’s just a rookie getting better. He looked like he ran a great race at Ascot last time out and he’s got winning form on the track. He’s a fantastic horse and again we didn’t waste any time over hurdles with him, he won both his races and we went over the fences and he’s improved since then.
“He’s a novice but he’s eight years old and he’s got a lot of experience as a pointer, so we just hope he’s not hit the peak of his handicap. He’s an incredible horse. He’s a bit reserved at home but on the track he is so savvy.
“I was a little nervous after Ascot that he might be getting closer but he hasn’t had a tough run and he’s been great. If Frodo stays we’ll have good running weight and we are looking forward to it.
Russell has two more entries for the Cheltenham Festival and, when asked about their plans, added: “Cuban Cigar will stay here for the Go North final at Musselburgh, while Thereisnodoubt is three races away, but is unlikely to enter. .”
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Russell and Scudamore have an exciting crop of fighters remaining in the yard at the moment, including last year’s Scottish Grand National winner Mighty Thunder, who will be aiming to follow this year’s Randox Grand National at Aintree.
And Russell explained that the generation grew out of the yard’s most high-profile success in 2017. She said: “I think it comes from One For Arthur winning the Grand National. We wanted to buy good young horses and we knew it was going to be difficult because we were going to spend a few years without winning and not being in the best meetings.
“We now have a theory that we should buy what we know how to train well and it’s the young horses that make long-term hunters and that’s what you see now five years later.
“It plays to our strengths because I think we’re pretty good at buying young horses and giving them the time they need to bring them in. We’re buying a lot of two-year-olds as well as three-year-olds and that’s what you see now – we have some fantastic young horses coming in.
“As I get older my perception changes and I used to think Aintree and the Grand National were the be-all and end-all and we used to aim for our horses there. I think when you get good horses, you suddenly appreciate how good Cheltenham are and I don’t think we really enjoyed that with Brindisi Breeze back then 10 years ago.
“Everyone kept telling me at the time how important it was, but now I really appreciate it and with Hank going on the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, it’s a really big thing. You see the owners getting more and more enthusiastic and that’s one of the reasons we train, to have riders at the highest level.
Peter Scudamore added: “You always try to take horses that cost north of half a million pounds with lower sums and we’re not bitter about it, but we’ve worked hard to get there and we feel that there is light at the end of the tunnel and we have some great young horses coming in. We have to look beyond some of the strongest connections.
“We feel a bit upset at times, but we’ve been to Sandown, Newbury, Aintree and Cheltenham this time and I like it. I think we held on and we are trying to improve. We have to keep improving our game and those coaches over there are pushing us to keep going.
“I’m not Scottish but I understand the importance of winning things like the Scottish National. We’re very proud of what we do and winning this race was very important to the yard – the more you get, the more you want. .
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