GRAND National hopeful Skippers Brig carried the colours of Langholm-based Ashleybank Investments Ltd to land the totesport.com premier chase at Kelso on Saturday with the sponsors rating the winner at 25-1 (from 50-1) for the Aintree showpiece on April 9.
Nicky Richards’ charge also has an entry in the Stewart Family Spinal research handicap at Aintree, although his participation will depend on suitable ground. “He’s very ground dependent. He’d want it softer than good to soft,” said Richards.
“It would be lovely to sneak into the National off a low weight,” he added. “I thought he would run well today and he’s done exactly that. Brian [Harding] gave him a super ride.”
Fellow Aintree contender Ballabriggs, a 14-1 shot for the Grand National, finished second, with Chief Dan George, owned by Maurice Chapman of Lauder Farms Ltd, in third.
“I’m happy with him,” said trainer Donald McCain after the race.
“It turned into a bit of a sprint, but that was an ideal National preparation,” he added.
Lucinda Russell landed Kelso’s feature £30,000 totepool premier hurdle race with 20-1 chance Bold Sir Brian, before completing a double with handicap debutant Golfer’s Crossing.
Before a bumper crowd of more than 4,000, Bold Sir Brian, who is highly regarded by connections, headed a competitive event in the hands of stable jockey Peter Buchanan.
The victory could see the gelding, which carries the colours of Berwickshire owner Alexander Trotter, pencilled in for the John Smiths Mersey novices hurdle race at Aintree next month.
The Milnathort trainer’s second win came in the concluding Voice of Rugby handicap hurdle race where Campbell Gillies rode Golfer’s Crossing to a comfortable nine-length success.
Donald Whillans saddled runner-up Leith Walk, ridden by his son Callum, with the Hawick trainer’s brother Alistair taking third with 5-2 favourite Kings Guard, partnered by his son Ewan.
The Alistair Whillans-trained Storm Brig was well fancied to retain his unbeaten run in the feature hurdle race, only to produce a disappointing show.
Quotica De Poyans followed up a previous course success to head the Royal Caledonian Hunt hunters’ chase for Phillipa and Simon Shirley-Beavan from Bonchester Bridge.
With Pas de Baratin and Miss Teeny Bash both non-runners, 12 went to post, with the French-bred gelding enjoying a comfortable seven-length success over Scotch Warrior, trained in Northumberland by Michael Smith and ridden by Adam Nicol from Hawick.
I See A Star, which finished ninth, was disqualified after a stewards’ enquiry, when the rider weighed-in light.
Veteran campaigner Polar Gunner took the opening Bedmax handicap chase – the 14-year-old getting the better of Jim Goldie’s Bene Lad by a length.
The well-fancied Tartan Snow, a faller on his previous Ayr start when upsided at the last, tripped up on the flat, unseating Jedburgh jockey Gary Rutherford, after clipping the heels of another runner.
Hawick jockey Wilson Renwick rode Nine Stories to win the Cyril Alexander Memorial novices’ chase, defeating Signalman, from James Ewart’s Langholm stable, by two lengths.
Glasgow handler Jim Goldie continued a good afternoon for Scottish trainers, when saddling Pokfulham to take the Terry Frame Joiners novices’ hurdle race, holding favourite Proud Times by a length.
Racing returns to Kelso on Monday, March 21.
z Langholm trainer James Ewart is set to have his first runners at the Cheltenham Festival when he saddles Aikman and Captain Americo next week.
Aikman, who has a choice of five entries, booked his place with a surprise win over Minella Class in the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon last week.
Captain Americo is on course for the four-mile National Hunt Chase following a win at Newcastle in January and a third position behind Wayward Prince at Wetherby recently.