National hope Hill aiming to make it third-time lucky for Thomson

Sandy Thomson will fly the flag for the Scottish Borders when Hill Sixteen lines up in the Randox Grand National.

The region has a rich racing heritage and the 10-year-old will be the Lambden-based trainer’s third runner in the race as he sneaks into the 40-strong field off a feather-weight of 10st 2lb.

Seeyouatmidnight was sent off at 11-1 as Thomson’s first runner in the Merseyside marathon in 2018 finishing a well-held 11th behind Tiger Roll, before Dingo Dollar rather unfortunately unshipped Ryan Mania when going well at the second Canal Turn 12 months ago.

Now it is the turn of Hill Sixteen, who was beaten a nose in a Becher Chase thriller by Snow Leopardess in 2021 and last seen finishing seventh in the most recent renewal of the renowned dress rehearsal over the famous green spruce.

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Although his best form comes with ease in the ground, his two completions over the National fences have the Borders handler dreaming it will be a case of third-time lucky ahead of Hill Sixteen’s turn to face the Aintree starter.

“We’re really looking forward to it and it has been such a funny spring we really could get a soft-ground National,” said Thomson.

“We’ve seen in the Becher over the past two years it has got to be soft for him to stand a chance. We saw last year that on good ground the top-rated horses have a much better chance, but when it turns soft, they have a big weight to lump round.”

The Grand National has been an ever-present in Thomson’s life and from an early age he grew up listening to tales of Scotland’s favourite racehorse – the Reg Tweedie-trained Freddie.

Freddie was sent off favourite for both the 1965 and 1966 Grand Nationals, finishing runner-up on both occasions, while Thomson’s brush with Aintree history stretches back to 1939 silver medallist MacMoffatt who was bred by the handler’s grandfather.

Although John Leadbetter’s Rubstic in 1979 and Lucinda Russell’s 2017 scorer One For Arthur are the only two winners of the world’s most famous steeplechase from north of the border, Thomson is keen to uphold Scotland’s strong association with the race.

He continued: “I have lots of very early memories of the race and we had Freddie just up the road. I was too young then but grew up with the stories of Freddie and my grandfather bred MacMoffatt.

“John Leadbetter won it and the Borders have had a great association with the race, albeit mostly hard-luck stories rather than actually winning it. But we’ve always gone there and been competitive.

“Non-racing people can’t understand how difficult it is to get a horse qualified to run in the Grand National and hopefully this will be our third runner. Some yards have hardly had a runner in the race. It’s a great occasion to be part of.”

Horse Racing – The 2013 John Smith’s Grand National – Grand National Day – Aintree Racecourse
Ryan Mania celebrates on Auroras Encore after winning the Grand National in 2013 (David Davies/PA)

If Hill Sixteen were to march home in front on April 15, it would be an extra-special moment for Thomson with stepson-in-law Ryan Mania set to do the steering.

Mania won the National on Auroras Encore in 2013 and having retired from the saddle in 2014, spent his years away from the weighing room serving as assistant for Thomson’s Lambden Racing operation before returning to the riding ranks with renewed vigour in 2019.

“Ryan’s record round the fences is very good,” continued Thomson. “He was unlucky last year with his saddle slipping round Canal Turn. That can happen to anyone in a race like that.

“The race has changed hugely over the last four or five years. Ryan said after riding in it last year that it’s such a different race now to what is was when he won on Aurora’s Encore.”

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