Scottish Grand National: English & Irish raiders target Ayr race

By Geoff WebsterBBC Scotland
Ger Fox celebrates with Rogue Angel with Ruby Walsh behind on Bless The Wings
Rogue Angel, who won the recent Irish Grand National, is also in the mix for the Scottish National

Armies of equine raiders from England and Ireland are preparing to invade Ayr for the two-day meeting that reaches its climax with the Coral Scottish Grand National on Saturday.

With more than £600,000 of prize money on offer, including a first prize of £120,000 for the big race, the cast list will be a 'Who's Who' of the National Hunt world.

Having won more than £1m at the Cheltenham Festival last month, Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins is on course to dethrone current British champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

Both men are heading to Ayr knowing the title could be clinched with a big race win, while another Irish trainer, Mouse Morris, is aiming for a unique National treble after triumphs in last Saturday's Grand National with Rule The World and last month's Irish Grand National with Rogue Angel.

There's no doubt about who's going to be champion jockey following the retirement last year of 20-times winner, Sir Anthony McCoy, or AP as he's better known.

Perennial runner-up Richard Johnson will be at Ayr with the title already wrapped up, having ridden more than 220 winners - almost 100 more than his nearest rival.

It is exactly 50 years since the Scottish Grand National was first run at Ayr - African Patrol, ridden by Johnny Leech, was the inaugural winner - following the closure of the racecourse at nearby Bogside in 1965 where it had been staged for nearly a century.

Over those last 50 years, the gruelling marathon has been won by a cast list that includes many of the sport's great names - equine and human.

But there's one name that stands out - Red Rum. The winner of the Aintree Grand National three times, "Rummy" came north in 1974 having just won the second of his three Nationals.

Despite some suggesting it bordered on cruelty to run a horse in two such gruelling races within days of each other, he simply ran his rivals into the ground to claim the Scottish National too.

Red Rum remains the only horse to win both big races in the same year.

Red Rum checks out a model of the bronze statue that sculptor Lady Yarrow created at Ayr racecourse in 1974
Red Rum checks out a miniature model of the bronze statue that sculptor Lady Yarrow created of him at Ayr racecourse in 1974

The achievement was so remarkable that Ayr Racecourse commissioned a statue in the horse's honour.

As for Saturday's race, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary is flying high at the moment as the owner of both the Irish Grand National winner Rogue Angel and Grand national winner Rule The World.

He has entered several horses for Ayr - including Rogue Angel.

But what odds a Scottish-trained winner? Well, around 14/1 according to the bookies, who reckon Seeyouatmidnight could give Borders trainer Sandy Thomson his greatest moment by far.

"We gave him a quiet couple of weeks and now we're building him up, we're delighted with him," said Thomson. "We're really looking forward to it."

Merigo leads the field at Ayr in the 2012 Scottish Grand National
Merigo (left), the last Scottish winner, won the race in 2010 and 2012

The last Scottish winner of the race was in 2012 when Merigo, trained near Lockerbie by Andrew Parker, gained his second success having previously won it two years earlier.

Great jockeys such as AP McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Peter Scudamore and Richard Johnson have all ridden the winner of the Scottish Grand National while legendary trainers David Nicholson, Jenny Pitman, Martin Pipe and Nigel Twiston-Davies all have it on their CVs.

That's maybe why the 'Sold Out' signs have gone up on the Club Enclosure as the racecourse nears its capacity of 16,500.

On Saturday, another chapter will be written in the rich history of the great race as 30 runners negotiate 27 fences over a stamina-sapping four miles, hoping to add their names to the roll of honour.

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