Ahoy Senor made every yard of the running to record an emphatic success in the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree.
Lucinda Russell’s seven-year-old had won a Grade One over hurdles at this meeting last season when a relatively unheard of 66-1 chance, and while he is never going to be sent off at those odds again, he was still only third choice in a high-class field of four at 4-1.
That was because he was lining up in arguably the hottest race of its type this season, with L’Homme Presse, who beat him in the Brown Advisory at Cheltenham, and Bravemansgame, who had his measure at Kempton over Christmas, heading the market.
Also in the field was Gordon Elliott’s Fury Road, a Grade One winner in his own right. So the race was eagerly anticipated.
Derek Fox set out to make all, and he was able to control the tempo as he liked, despite his mount repeatedly jumping out to his right.
Because of that Harry Cobden on 11-8 favourite Bravemansgame changed his position from being on his outside to go on the rail and it looked a shrewd move, especially when at the last fence down the back L’Homme Presse was hampered by the eventual winner.
But Bravemansgame quickly came under pressure and was first beaten, and not long after that it soon became apparent L’Homme Presse was not in the same form as at Cheltenham, leaving Fury Road as the big danger.
However, in a matter of strides Ahoy Senor had put the race to bed, bounding five lengths clear of Fury Road.
Russell said: “This time last year he was just amazing and this year he’s been learning about his jumping, but each time he’s raced he’s got better and better.
“At Cheltenham I thought he learnt what he was meant to be doing and he showed it today – he was just outstanding. Cheltenham did make a man of him.
“He’s just a fantastic novice and this is a great way to end his novice season.
“Derek rides him all the time at home. He knows the horses inside out and he is a fantastic horseman. His whole world is focussed on the horse and already has his campaign for next season mapped out!”
Betfair cut the winner from 20-1 to 8-1 for next year’s Gold Cup, and Russell added: “Hopefully we’ll end up with the Gold Cup, God willing. Now it’s a dream again.
“I love Aintree and always have done. When we drove in yesterday you can’t help but feel the spirits of everyone past – it’s magic.”
Peter Scudamore, Russell’s assistant and partner, said: “Superman is no good without kryptonite and this horse makes the odd mistake!
“Everyone said he didn’t jump very well at Cheltenham, I thought he made one mistake.
“You are dealing with an elite athlete and I just wanted him to prove it, that’s why I get emotional.
“He’s as good as I’ve come across. I don’t see him as a Carvill’s Hill. This horse jumps right, but I remember another good horse I rode called Young Hustler who’d go left on a right-handed track and right on a left-handed track. I think he finds himself room and he’s just getting it together.
“The only thing I do think he likes is better ground, which works for the big races.
“The Gold Cup trip won’t be against him. We are small fish amongst the big fish and to have a horse like this is an immense privilege.”
L’Homme Presse was only third, with jockey Charlie Deutsch saying of Venetia Williams’ runner: “He wasn’t as sparky as he’d been at Cheltenham and when I looked across and saw how well Derek was going I knew we were in trouble early on.
“He wasn’t the same horse as at Cheltenham, but it was worth a try.”
Of Bravemansgame, Paul Nicholls said: “That was disappointing, he just didn’t run his race.
“If he’d been upsides two out and got beat yes I would have believed it, but that wasn’t his true form. I think we can put a line through it.”