Now what? If you had something to do with Senior Senator what would you do? The timber sensation tied a record with his third Maryland Hunt Cup win at the end of April and had trainer Joe Davies and owners Skip and Vicki Crawford wondering what’s left on the table.
The Pennsylvania-bred is 9 years old, prime age for a timber specialist, and in top form. Davies, even three years ago, dropped hints about a potential try at the English Grand National at Aintree. Maryland Hunt Cup winners Jay Trump and *Ben Nevis II also won the National, the most famous jump race in the world, to burnish credentials that ultimately took them to Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame. Other Hunt Cup winners have tackled the Grand National with varying degrees of success too, so it’s not necessarily a wild leap into the unknown.
Then again . . . a Grand National try brings with it plenty of variables, especially when it comes to this horse.
Senior Senator is quirky enough that he probably shouldn’t just be shipped off to an English trainer to prep for months in advance – the way Jay Trump and *Ben Nevis II did it and the way most people would recommend. Fernando the donkey might have to get a passport. The training yard would need the right mix of options for a horse accustomed to at least occasionally galloping around his home loose. When Senior Senator goes to the races now, he wears the headpiece to his racing bridle pretty much all day because he can be such a bear to deal with at the races.
Beyond that, the son of Domestic Dispute deals with hoof problems, went to New Bolton Center with colic issues a couple times this off-season and enjoys van rides to Starbucks (or nowhere) and back to the farm. How’s that going to go over in England?
Every spring, Davies talks of potential calamities that nearly derailed Senior Senator in his Hunt Cup quests – illness, those tricky feet, mysterious lameness, the surgery on his neck after falling in the 2017 race, anything really.
“He’s been a fraction of an inch from losing or from disaster even,” said the trainer an hour after the 2019 Hunt Cup win. “He was hopping lame 10 days ago. The vet came and he was sound. He almost fell crossing the road [in the Hunt Cup] this year. If that happens, we’re not having this conversation. There’s always something to think about.”
For now, that’s England – perhaps.
Adding to the decision-making process, the National is not what it was. The fences are far easier to jump, which creates a faster pace, more finishers, more traffic and a different test for horses. The race is still 41⁄4-miles (plus), which fits Senior Senator’s skillset, but it’s not the jumping test Jay Trump and *Ben Nevis II had to pass. Tiger Roll, winner of the last two Nationals – won four times over hurdles and competed against the likes of hurdle stars Hurricane Fly and Faugheen before switching to chases, cross-country races and the Grand National.
Tiger Roll is world class. He runs and jumps and stays all day. But he would be overmatched against Senior Senator in the Maryland Hunt Cup.
Still, Davies is thinking about it.
“We’re going to explore what it would look like,” he said in early May. “If we did it, we would want to run off the plane, get there just before the race. Whether that means going once in November and having a run and going back again in the spring, we’ll see. The Grand National is still the Grand National, it’s 41⁄2 miles, it’s still a jumping race even if it’s not quite the same as it was.”
And Senior Senator at least deserves these kinds of conversations. It’s been far too long since an American star tackled the big names in England and/or Ireland. McDynamo didn’t go. Good Night Shirt didn’t go. Lonesome Glory did, and elevated his stature. Same with the Aintree winners, and *Fort Devon, Soothsayer, Inkslinger and others.
“We’d love to do it,” said Davies. “Anybody would.”
Of course, there may be one more piece of unfinished Maryland Hunt Cup business. With the 2019 win, Senior Senator became the ninth horse to win the great race three times. No horse has won four.
“If the stars aligned and we were able to have another try at the Hunt Cup, that would be meaningful,” Davies said. “He’s the morning line favorite a year away and would be the first of any horse in history to do that. Winning three Hunt Cups and an English Grand National would be spectacular, but that’s happened before [Jay Trump]. To get Senior Senator into the history books, alone, would be spectacular in its way too.”
Enjoy the decision.