How Pony Club schooling put top novice Ahoy Senor back on track for Lucinda Russell at Wetherby as Cheltenham options were weighed

A brilliant close-up of Ahoy Senor and Derek Fox winning the William Hill Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby. Pictured: Phil Andrews.

Wetherby’s victory – on the back of a Pony Club-like formation – dispelled any doubts about the strapping horse’s incipient overthrow after a Boxing Day setback at the talented Bravemansgame in Kempton that surprised some.

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This leaves Russell and his partner Peter Scudamore, the eight-time champion jockey, with an intriguing dilemma from Cheltenham – Blue Ribbon Boodles Gold Cup, Grade One Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the National Hunt Festival or heading straight for Aintree where the track of gallop will suit Ahoy Senor.

Ahoy Senor and Derek Fox (red and black colours) come down the Wetherby Straight in the William Hill Towton Novices’ Chase. Pictured: Phil Andrews.

It’s a riddle that will take longer to solve than the struggles of the winning trainer opening the door to Wetherby’s winners’ enclosure to greet his victorious horse and rider Derek Fox.

And, given that it was one of the trickiest obstacles on a typically dreich winter afternoon, it also testified to Ahoy Senor’s dominance, as the color soon returned to the cheerful complexion of a Russell.

“He took a few fences to warm up to, but it’s a brilliant track to bring him in – it’s a gallop track with big fences. He’s a huge horse and he needs big fences to respect them,” she said.

Triumphant in a grade one novice hurdle at the Randox Grand National meeting at Aintree last April, Ahor Senor is yet to be a natural on the fences in the red and black colors of Carron and Bruce Wymer as well as the sire of Coach Peter.

Derek Fox and Ahoy Senor return to the Wetherby winners’ enclosure after their win at Towton.

Ears pricked, Fox’s mount was deliberate on the first of 19 fences before finding his rhythm down the backstretch on the first homer where he appeared to attack both opening ditches in the deepening gloom.

Still, Ahoy Senor didn’t flinch when Ashtown Lad and Harry Skelton joined the lead before the second homer where Ahoy Senor’s athleticism in the ditches was again pronounced.

It was significant, on the long bend home, that Saint Palais, a three-time winner, and receiving 11 pounds from the odd favorite, was the first of four riders to come under pressure.

But it was the blistering acceleration of Ahoy Senor heading for the penultimate fence, at the end of a three-mile run, it was a sight to behold – it was a horse with an abundance of stamina.

And, in some ways, Fox’s red-faced mount jumped the hurdle too well – there was a little stumble on landing, but not as pronounced as Midnight Shadow’s final drama at the Paddy Power Gold. Cup last November and whose tragic death last weekend Sky Bet Chase leaned so much into the race.

Ahoy Senor was tall, bold and brave at the final close, to Russell’s relief, before storming down the slope to the winning line with more than five lengths in hand over never-threatening runner-up Noble Yeats.

Russell’s immediate instinct was that the Brown Advisory – the championship three-mile race for novice hunters at Cheltenham – was the likeliest target for the Festival given it was Ahoy Senor’s fourth start on the fences.

“He will probably go for the Brown Advisory. He is still a novice; he has immense talent but we are still shaping him,” she told the Yorkshire Post. “We didn’t lose anything in the defeat at Kempton and if we had gone here straight after his win at Newbury we wouldn’t have learned anything, but Kempton taught us something.”

She spoke about the importance of knowing what drives horses in order to maximize their potential and longevity in sport.

And it was fascinating to listen to how Russell and Scudamore, a partnership defined by One For Arthur’s Grand National victory five years ago, learned from the loss to Kempton where Ahoy Senor’s wayward jumping lacked the fluidity necessary for a freshman race.

“It’s great, I’m glad we went to Kempton,” she told Racing TV before the long journey back to Kinross was made even sweeter by Scotland’s dramatic win at the Six Nations v England at Murrayfield.

“I know we were beaten, but I saw some things about his jumps that I think we managed to sort out. He was just a little sucked at the bottom of his fences – rather than taking that long stride and being pretty daring, he was just going in and getting a little tight.

“We did stuff at school, it’s so Pony Club but it works. I think that helped him and Derek was full of confidence today. He’s a fantastic jockey and I’m delighted he’s riding him.

“I think a return to a gallop track like this really appealed to him, but he’s just a lovely horse and to create something like that is just fantastic. He just has this ability to jump over fences , I think he jumped the ditches very well, they just back him up a bit and he needs those bigger fences to back him up.

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