Ahoy Senor holds on to hand Lucinda Russell emotional Cotswold Chase win
The “Trials Day” label on the last card at Cheltenham before the Festival might suggest it is little more than an appetiser ahead of the main event. For the connections of the big chase winners here on Saturday, however, it was a day of real significance and, for trainer Lucinda Russell, an emotional afternoon too.
Russell’s father, Peter, who died this week at 95, was a co-owner of Ahoy Senor, the winner of the Grade Two Cotswold Chase, and also played a big part in launching his daughter’s training career. “He loved this horse and really wanted him to do well,” she said. “It was Dad that set me up and gave me the desire and determination. He’d be very proud today.
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“As he went on in his life, the racing meant a lot to him and he would always phone me before and after the races. I’ll miss that intensely.”
Ahoy Senor was a leading novice over fences last season, rounding off his campaign with a Grade One win at Aintree in April, but was also prone to losing his confidence after a mistake, particularly in the latter stages of races.
That continued in his first three starts this term, but he was far more assured this time, overcoming a slight error at the last to battle to a one-and-a-half length defeat of Sounds Russian with the market leaders, Protektorat and Noble Yeats, the 2022 Grand National winner, fourth and third respectively.
“He’s always been good, but he just had to learn about it and I think he came of age today,” Russell said, while her partner, the former champion jockey, Peter Scudamore, reached for a cricketing analogy. “I’ve said he’s the best horse we’ve ever trained,” Scudamore said. “Then you begin to doubt yourself, but things eventually come right in the end and that’s what sport is about. When he gets it right, he is like Ian Botham, when he gets it wrong, he can be back in the pavilion for 10.”
Ahoy Senor was cut to around 12-1 for the Gold Cup in March while Noble Yeats, who would be the first horse to win the Grand National and Gold Cup in that order, is 8-1 for the Festival’s showpiece having stayed on well in the closing stages, over a trip a furlong shorter than the Gold Cup.
It proved to be a significant afternoon for Niall Houlihan, a conditional rider at Gary Moore’s Sussex stable, as he recorded the first Grade One success of his career aboard Editeur Du Gite in the Clarence House Chase, which was added to the card after Ascot’s meeting last Saturday succumbed to the weather.
Editeur Du Gite was not among the declarations for the race seven days ago, but Moore felt it was worth paying £2,250 to add him to a field that included Energumene and Edwardstone, the winners of last season’s Champion Chase and Arkle Trophy respectively.
His gamble was richly rewarded as the 14-1 shot responded strongly to Houlihan’s urging and edged past Edwardstone in the final strides, after being passed on the run-in. Energumene, the 4-9 favourite, was third, with Willie Mullins, his trainer, suggesting the new white marker boards on the fences may have unsettled his runner.
“It is unreal really,” Houlihan said. “The horse tries so hard for you. Every time a horse came to me, he stuck his neck out, especially when he got headed after the last. It is brilliant that they put the faith in me on a horse like him and to pull it off is great.”
Sedgefield 12.50 Aubis Walk 1.25 Twoshotsoftequila (nb) 2.00 Ashington 2.35 Nero Rock 3.10 Basford 3.45 Skyhill 4.20 Silkstone
Fontwell 1.05 Firestream 1.40 Unit Sixtyfour 2.15 Concrete King (nap) 2.50 Coolvalla 3.25 Our Champ 4.00 Art Decco 4.35 Film D’Action
Southwell 1.15 Get Prepared 1.50 Monte Igueldo 2.25 Doc McCoy 3.00 Strong Leader 3.35 Richhill 4.10 Shallow River
Editeur Du Gite is top-priced at 13-2 for the Champion Chase on 15 March, behind Energumene and Edwardstone at 3-1 and Blue Lord, on 9-2.
Gold Tweet (14-1) was another surprise winner in the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle, but there was little sign of fluke as he went clear of Dashel Drasher and Paisley Park, a former Stayers’ Hurdle winner, to become the first French-trained winner on Trials day for 18 years.
Gabriel Leenders, his trainer, will now consider a supplementary entry for the Stayers’ Hurdle in March. “It’s expensive and we are not rich,” he said, “but it would be a dream to come here in March.”