Borders horse favourite to win Scottish Grand National
Borders-trained racehorse Aye Right is tipped to notch up his first win of the campaign this season at the Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase at Ayr this afternoon, April 18.
The eight-year-old bay gelding, trained by Harriet Graham at Stripend, near Camptown, has yet to pass the post first this season, but, up against high-handicap competition, has finished second or third five times in his last six runs, including a third place behind Vintage Clouds in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire.
Jedburgh jockey Callum Bewley will be in the saddle today for the 8-1 favourite for the £84,405 prize.
Though yet to win a race this year, Aye Right, owned by Melrose’s Geoff and Elspeth Adam, has always gone down fighting, and his battling qualities were never more evident than when he produced an admirable performance in the SkyBet Chase at Doncaster in South Yorkshire earlier this year.
Leading over the last, having led all the way, he looked the likely winner, only to eventually be beaten by Nicky Richards’ Takingrisks.
His last win was at Newcastle in January last year.
Aye Right, though classy enough, has appeared to lack the ability to go up a gear in the closing stages of a race, but Graham hopes the longer distance of today’s race in South Ayrshire – just under four miles – might help him in that respect, with the emphasis being more on an ability to stay than end-of-race speed.
She said: “Yes, he lacks a bit of speed at the end of his races, but that’s why we’re hoping the extra few furlongs will help.
“He’s never gone over this distance before and we don’t know for sure he will stay, but it all points to the fact that he will.
“After every race, although he’s not been the fastest, he always seems to be the freshest coming back to the paddock, while Callum says he has to pull him up at the end of his races, rather than him falling in a heap at the finish.”
Aye Right, as the one of best horses in the race, carries a hefty weight, 11st 11lb, but, running on the good ground he prefers for the only the second time this season, Graham hopes he can defy that burden.
“He has won carrying this sort of weight in the past, so we are hopeful, but it is a negative, definitely.
“I’d have loved for him to carry less than 11st, obviously, but that’s not going to be, and we have to run the race as it’s laid out for us.”
Excitement has been mounting at Graham’s eight-horse stables this week at the prospect of the National run, with the calmest individual probably being Aye Right himself.
“He’s absolutely lovely,” said Graham. “He’s so easy to train. He loves his work, he eats up well, sleeps well and spends hours simply looking out of his stable at the view over the Cheviot Hills.
“He’s really relaxed around the place, which is a real plus, although I must say he is not a relaxed horse to ride. He can be a handful, but it’s like a person – if they eat well and sleep enough, you feel a hell of a lot better than someone who worries all the time and doesn’t sleep and eat the proper food.
“Put it this way, he’s not the sort to pop into McDonalds on the way home from the pub.”
Graham realises the scale of the task facing Aye Right in what is a wide-open contest this year.
She said: “If we won, it would mean a colossal amount to our yard, to our owners Geoff and Elspeth, who have had horses with us for five to six years and who have been incredibly loyal to us.
“It would be a real big deal for the local area too. The local farmers, the local shepherds, everyone knows him. Even the dustmen ask about him.
“He has a small, but very loyal following and it would mean the world to us, but we cannot get ahead of ourselves.
“We know this will be really hard to win, but we have him there in good shape and he’s ready to go.”
While Aye Right leads the market to keep the National north of the Border, another Scottish horse with sound claims appears to be Lucinda Russell’s Mighty Thunder, in the form of his life after beating all bar the well-handicapped Time To Get Up in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter last time and a 5lb rise for that effort looks fair. At double-digit odds, he appears well worth an each-way bet.
Paul Nicholls’ Soldier of Love could also run a big race on the evidence of his four wins earlier this season and will come to Ayr fresh after a five-month absence.
The Ferry Master, trained by Sandy Thomson at Kelso and to be ridden by Sean Quinlan, also looks to be worth a flutter. He’s one of two entries for Thomson, the other being Dingo Dollar, ridden by Ryan Mania.
Another Borders-trained horse among the 22 runners is Claud and Goldie, looked after by Yetholm’s Sandy Forster and ridden by Richie McLernon.
The Scottish Grand National takes place at 3.35pm today behind closed doors. It’s being broadcast live on ITV.