Ayr’s two-day Coral Scottish Grand National Meeting begins this afternoon, with the showpiece taking place on Saturday.
The race originally known as the ‘West of Scotland Grand National’, was first run at a course near Houston, Renfrewshire in 1858. In 1867 the race moved to Bogside Racecourse, near Irvine and became known as the Scottish National in 1880. Bogside closed in 1965, when the event was transferred to its current home at Ayr.
Several horses have won nationals at both Ayr and Aintree, but only one has completed the double in the same year, and that was of course the extraordinary Red Rum in 1974.
A week ago in testing ground at Aintree only two of the 16 that finished the Grand National carried more than 11 stone. The 2015 winner Many Clouds was one of those, and he trailed home last. The ground is currently described as soft at Ayr, and with showers forecast for today, chances are that the national on Saturday will prove something of a slog.
It’s rare that the Scottish National is run on anything other than decent ground, yet still only three of the last 15 winners have managed to haul more than 11 stone to victory. Godsmejudge in 2013 carried 11st 3 lbs to success, whilst back in 2004 the wonderful Grey Abbey managed to claim victory having lugged top weight of 11st 12lbs. Trends suggest that Saturday’s victor will carry less than 11 stone.
Age in these marathon events is always a factor. With 30 runners going to post on Saturday, a horse with plenty of chasing experience has a huge advantage. Godsmejudge and Beshabar were the notable exceptions to that rule in the last 10 renewals. Only one seven-year-old has took the race in the last dozen years, and that was the aforementioned trend basher Godsmejudge. The rest have been a pretty even spread of eight, nine, 10 and 11 year-olds.
Vics Canvas ran an absolute cracker last week at Aintree, but generally the senior citizen should be avoided in such events. Only one horse over 11 has hit the target in this race since 1966, though a strong performance from the former Grand National winner Pineau De Re would come as no surprise.
As well as discounting those carrying plenty of weight, there’s also a case for focusing on those from the very bottom end of the starting list. In the last 10 renewals, only two have carried more than 10st 7lbs to victory, with seven of those carrying 10st 4lbs or less. Indeed, horses from outside the handicap have managed two wins in that time frame.
So having decided that we need a horse of between eight and 11 years of age, with plenty of chasing experience, carrying less than 11 stone, let’s take a closer look at this year’s contenders.
Gigginstown have dominated events in recent weeks, taking two nationals and the Gold Cup in a stunning spell of success. They have the favourite for tomorrow’s race in Measureofmydreams. Willie Mullins trains the eight-year-old, with Bryan Cooper taking the ride. He’s a classy sort, and proved he’ll handle the trip when taking third in Cheltenham’s National Hunt Chase. Native River was second that day, and franked the form at Aintree. The only negative, is that this fella has only had three outings over fences. It’s a hell of a task for one so inexperienced.
Cause Of Causes represents further powerful connections in JP McManus. Fresh from a romp at Cheltenham, when scooting clear to win the Kim Muir, he is also a former winner of the National Hunt Chase. Often held up in his races, he’s likely to be delivered late in the piece. It’s a tough ask with him having to lump top weight over the four-mile trip. As good as he clearly is, I find him hard to fancy for this.
Seeyouatmidnight would be a popular winner in the north. Sandy Thomson’s chaser will appreciate the easier ground conditions having struggled to land a blow in the RSA last time. He’s always looked a thorough stayer, though is yet to truly prove it over fences. He has to carry 11st 6lbs, and has limited experience as a chaser with just five outings to his name. He’s therefore a ‘no no’ on the trends front, and has to be struck off my list.
Royale Knight is a really interesting contender. He’s trained by the man behind Pineau De Re, Dr Richard Newland, and has plenty of experience over these marathon trips. He ran a respectable race in the 2015 Aintree national, when finishing sixth behind Many Clouds, having probably been outpaced on livelier ground that day. He’s a winner of the Borders National and twice a winner of the Durham National at Sedgefield. Those victories came on a more testing surface. He’s the right age, and sneaks in under the 11 stone barrier.
The same can be said of Emma Lavelle’s classy chaser Shotgun Paddy. The nine-year-old has dropped down the handicap in recent times, and ran poorly in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter last time. However, he was carrying 11st 11lbs that day, and only has 10st 13lbs on his back tomorrow. It’ll be the first time he’s carried under 11 stone in his career, and though he’s an unpredictable sort, I’d give him a huge chance. He was third in this year’s Welsh National and then second in the Eider at Newcastle, showing that he retains plenty of form. I can hardly believe that he is currently a 25/1 shot.
From lower down the handicap, Mouse Morris will be hoping for an unprecedented treble, when he sends out his diminutive chaser Folsom Blue, in a bid to add the Scottish to his Irish and Aintree National successes. The horse is not without a chance, having run respectably in several staying events in Ireland. He has finished fourth and fifth in two Irish Nationals, and is likely to be in the hunt at the business end. At 25/1 he’s the right price for each-way punters, but I’m not sure he’s quite good enough to win the race.
Alvarado is another that missed the cut for the Aintree showpiece, and it would be nuts to discount this fella. The veteran is an out and out stayer and is likely to be doing his best work late on. Further rain would not aid his chances, as his better performances have come on a sounder surface.
Nigel Twiston-Davies sends Cogry north for the event, and should he get in at the bottom of the handicap he could prove another interesting contender. He ran well in last year’s race before coming down late on. He clearly appreciates a trip having finished third in the Midlands National last month. He’s still only seven, though has 10 chase outings to his name. He’s another each-way player.
As always, finding the winner of such a race is a tall order. I’m taking two against the field, with Royale Knight and Shotgun Paddy my each-way tips. The latter is undoubtedly my main fancy.