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.
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.”
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.”
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!”