Keep Busy upholds family tradition at Ayr

Keep Busy emulated her dam with victory in the Listed Irish Stallion Farms EBF Land O’Burns Fillies’ Stakes at Ayr.

John Quinn’s four-year-old was dropping down in class, having run consistently well at Group One and Two level in her last four starts but without a victory since her last trip to Scotland at Hamilton in August.

Keep Busy, a Group One runner-up at the Curragh last year and back in action quickly after her admirable close fifth as a 50-1 shot in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot last week, was sent off the 4-7 favourite this time to gain a deserved fifth career success and second at Listed level.

She duly did so with the minimum fuss, following the example set by her mother Look Busy – who won this race by a short head back in 2008.

Ridden by Jason Hart,  Keep Busy was not quite so hard-pressed to make her class tell – striking from off the pace a furlong out, after being positioned in midfield early on, and quickly confirming her superiority to win by three-quarters of a length from Irish challenger Dickiedooda.

Mid Winster, prominent throughout, just held on for third half a length further back.

Quinn was delighted to see Keep Busy win for the first time in seven starts – and confirmed she will soon be going back up in class again.

“She did it well – she was going away at the line,” said the North Yorkshire trainer.

“It’s only seven days after Royal Ascot, so I’m delighted.

“I’ll give her a little chance now for a while. But she does thrive on racing – the more I ran her as a two-year-old the better she was, then last year she only started running in June and then ran nine times.”

A return to the Curragh for the Group Two Sapphire Stakes is therefore on Keep Busy’s agenda – with high-profile dates at Goodwood, York and ParisLongchamp all possibly in the diary for her later in the season.

“She does like racing,” added Quinn.

“Her mum was supremely tough, and this one is the same.

“That said, there’s only so much for her. But there’s the Sapphire at the Curragh, the Group Two in about three weeks.

“That would be the plan, and then back for the Group Ones she ran well in last year – I put her in at Goodwood (King George Stakes) this morning, and the Nunthorpe, and she’ll be entered in the Abbaye.

“But I’d say the Curragh (next), all being well, would fit nicely.”

Keep Busy staying busy with Ayr engagement

King’s Stand Stakes fifth Keep Busy makes a quick reappearance in the Listed Irish Stallion Farms EBF Land O’Burns Fillies’ Stakes at Ayr on Tuesday.

The four-year-old was sent off a 50-1 chance in the Group One sprint won by Roger Teal’s Oxted, but finished one place in front of better-fancied stablemate Liberty Beach, who had landed the Temple Stakes at Haydock in which Keep Busy was only fifth.

The John Quinn-trained pair will have all the major five-furlong races for the rest of the season on their agendas.

“Keep Busy came out of the King’s Stand fine, so we’re happy to let her take her chance,” said the Malton handler.

“It looks a good opportunity, she’s well, so now I just hope she wins.

“Keep Busy always improves for her first run of the season and she did again, that’s her, she’s tough so we’re happy to run her again.”

As for plans for the rest of the season for the duo, Quinn said: “The two of them are in the Sapphire Stakes at the Curragh (July 17), they’ll be put in the King George at Goodwood and in the Nunthorpe.

“They are both proper five-furlong fillies and they beat all the other fillies well at Ascot. With a bit of luck they’ll win a Group One this season.”

Bharani Star returns with Listed victory at Ayr

Bharani Star delighted trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam with her Listed success in the British Stallion Studs EBF Rothesay Stakes at Ayr.

The daughter of Sea The Stars has been highly tried since registering a first career victory when dead-heating in a Haydock handicap last June – subsequently finishing fourth in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot and sixth in the Oaks at Epsom.

Making her first appearance since contesting the Galtres Stakes at York in August, Bharani Star was a 16-1 shot for her Scottish assignment – with dual champion jockey Paul Hanagan in the saddle.

Settled in midfield for much of the 10-furlong journey, the four-year-old quickened up to lead entering the final furlong and passed the post with almost two lengths in hand over Jessica Harrington’s Irish challenger Astadash.

Chapple-Hyam said: “I’m pleased with the filly and pleased for everyone concerned.

“If you’d asked me a week ago I’d have said she’d win, but if you’d asked me this morning I’d have said she’d a chance.

“She ran very well in the Ribblesdale last year, and I’m delighted with her.”

While in no rush to firm up immediate plans for Bharani Star, Chapple-Hyam hopes she can earn herself a possible return to Group One level in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood this summer.

He added: “We’ll step up for a Group Three somewhere, and take things slowly.

“Hopefully she might be good enough for the Nassau later on in the year.

“I don’t think the ground matters to her.”

Richard Fahey saddles 3,000th British winner

Richard Fahey claimed his 3,000th British winner when Hong Kong Harry scored at Ayr on Tuesday evening.

Based in Malton, North Yorkshire, Fahey has long had a prolific strike rate from his Musley Bank yard.

He has trained more than 150 winners for the past six seasons and in 2015 equalled the record for most winners in a calendar year when saddling 235 – a figure subsequently broken by Mark Johnston in 2019.

Fahey has handled popular equine stars such as Gabrial, Kimberella and Superior Premium as well as top-class performers such as Mayson, Wootton Basset and Ribchester, arguably the best horse he has trained.

Ribchester winning the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot
Ribchester winning the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot (John Walton/PA)

Fahey, who was born in Ireland but moved to Yorkshire when he was 18, told Great British Racing: “I would never have dreamed of reaching 3,000 winners when I started out, to have had 30 would have been enough back then!

“However, I’m obviously delighted to have reached such a fantastic milestone now and the credit must go to all my team as I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.

“If I had to pick one highlight, it would have to be Ribchester breaking the track record in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, it doesn’t get much better than that!”

A former jockey who rode more than 100 winners, Fahey’s training career began in 1993 and just seven years later he registered his first Royal Ascot win through Superior Premium in the Cork And Orrery Stakes.

His tally of 3,000 winners in Britain is made up of 2,859 on the Flat and 141 under National Hunt rules.

Paul Hanagan, who steered Hong Kong Harry to victory, has ridden more winners for Fahey than anyone else, with the pair enjoying 895 successes together.

Hanagan said: “I joined Richard when I was 17 years old and we have both grown together ever since, enjoying some fantastic days and moments together.

“There is no way I would have been able to achieve what I have achieved in my career, for example the two Champion Jockey titles, if it weren’t for Richard.

“We have become great friends and I’m over the moon for him to have reached this fantastic milestone.”

Mighty Thunder records famous ‘home win’ in Scottish National

Mighty Thunder provided Scottish trainer Lucinda Russell with victory in the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

Trained in Kinross by Russell and her partner Peter Scudamore, Mighty Thunder was an 8-1 chance for his latest National assignment after winning the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh and finishing second in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on his last two starts.

Rounding the home turn, it looked like Sandy Thomson could saddle the first two home, with 7-1 favourite Dingo Dollar and his stablemate The Ferry Master clear at the head of affairs.

However, Mighty Thunder responded to jockey Tom Scudamore’s urgings to close the gap and reeled in Dingo Dollar on the run-in to land a popular success by three-quarters of a length.

Irish raider Mister Fogpatches beat The Ferry Master to third place.

Mighty Thunder is the first home-trained winner of Scotland’s most famous jumps race since Merigo in 2012.

Russell said: “I’m delighted for the horse and his owners. It’s mixed emotions because it’s sad for Blair Campbell missing the ride due to injury, as he has kind of produced the horse, but these things happen and it’s fantastic Tom could ride and keep it in the family.

Trainer Lucinda Russell with Mighty Thunder
Trainer Lucinda Russell with Mighty Thunder (Jeff Holmes/PA)

“It’s been a tough time through Covid for the owners as they provide alcohol to pubs and clubs and things, but this will certainly brighten up their day.

“This is the horse’s first season over fences. He’s such a laid-back horse during a race, you can come with a late run at the end – he’s just made for these long-distance races really.”

The victory comes just nine days after Ahoy Senor claimed Grade One glory at Aintree for the team.

Russell has also won the Grand National on Merseyside with One For Arthur in 2017, while Brindisi Breeze was a Cheltenham Festival winner for the yard a few years ago.

Asked where winning the Scottish National ranks in her achievements, Russell added: “It would have to be second to the Grand National, but it’s a pretty good second place.

“I’m very proud of the way all the Scottish horses ran in it. They’re putting northern horses back on the map and that’s what we wanted.”

The trainer hopes Magic Thunder could be a realistic contender for the Randox Grand National at Aintree in 12 months’ time.

She said: “We’ll take it a step at a time, but I think we’ll probably go for the Becher Chase (in December) and see if he takes to the fences at Aintree.

“If he does then great, and if he doesn’t, we’ll aim at the Scottish National again.”

There was a sad postscript to the four-mile contest after it was confirmed the Sandy Forster-trained Claud And Goldie had collapsed and died in the pulling-up area after passing the post in ninth place.

Milkwood delivers in Scottish Champion Hurdle

A long-term plan came to fruition for Neil Mulholland after Milkwood claimed a clear-cut victory in the Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle.

The Somerset-based trainer revealed he has had the Grade Two contest as the primary objective for his seven-year-old ever since finishing fourth behind the high-class Sceau Royal in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las in October.

Since that fine effort, Milkwood had been third in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury and third again in the fiercely-competitive County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

With the form of the latter contest significantly boosted by the subsequent Grade One success of the winner Belfast Banter, Mulholland’s charge was the 3-1 favourite to get back on the winning trail at Ayr – and did so in impressive style.

After moving smoothly into contention under a confident ride from Sam Twiston-Davies, Milkwood took over the lead from Irish raider Ana Bunina after the final flight before pulling three and three-quarter lengths clear.

Mulholland said: “He ran very well in the Welsh Champion Hurdle and Ayr is a very similar track, so we’ve had this in mind since then.

“It was the same type of race, but better ground and we’re delighted it’s worked out on the day.

“We were hopeful going into it, but it’s hard to win any race, never mind a Scottish Champion Hurdle.”

On future plans, he added: “The only race left for him (this season) is the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock.

“He’ll probably go chasing at some stage, but I’ve got to speak to the owner and see what we’re going to do.

“We’ll enjoy today and see how he comes out of it.”

Mighty performance could keep Scottish National at home

Lucinda Russell relies principally on the improving Mighty Thunder as she supplies two of the nine contenders bidding to keep the Scottish Grand National at home.

The big Ayr prize has headed south of the border in each of the seven renewals since Merigo posted his second success in the space of three years for Scotland in 2012.

It was a significantly longer wait before then for the home contingent too, but Scottish trainers have collectively readied a team which can have high hopes on Sunday of resisting the big-gun travellers.

Russell’s Big River will accompany his stablemate, while Harriet Graham’s Aye Right is likely to start favourite – and Sandy Thomson’s duo of Dingo Dollar and The Ferry Master, Nick Alexander’s top-weight Lake View Lad, Sandy Forster’s Claud And Goldie and Iain Jardine’s Cool Mix and Dino Boy join the gathering of the clans in the 22-runner marathon.

Russell, who admits to concerns about forecast good ground for Big River, has a more obvious chance with Mighty Thunder – already winner of the Edinburgh National and second in the Midlands version this season.

“He’s a very straightforward horse, still only a novice chaser – but I’d like to think we’ve taught him well at home,” she said of the eight-year-old

“We gave him an extra season over hurdles, because his jumping wasn’t that brilliant, and I think that’s benefited him.

“He hasn’t run that often, but he’s certainly taking himself to the heights.”

Russell – who claimed the Aintree National in 2017 with One For Arthur – is hoping Mighty Thunder, who will be ridden by Tom Scudamore in place of the injured Blair Campbell, can continue to provide a glimpse of a brightening future.

She added: “He’s another exciting young horse for us, and I think that’s what we’re having to base our hopes and dreams on – these young horses coming through now and producing properly.

“I wouldn’t want it to be good to firm, because I think he’s a nice horse for the future. But he’s a little bit more flexible (than Big River), in terms he’ll go on good ground as well.”

Among the very credible raiding party is Paul Nicholls’ Soldier Of Love, Brian Ellison’s Eider Chase hero Sam’s Adventure and Notachance from Alan King’s yard.

Some Chaos is another notable opponent for the Russell yard.

The 10-year-old is trained by Michael Scudamore – son of Peter, who is Russell’s partner and assistant.

“He’s in great form,” said the Herefordshire handler.

Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell will be cheering for the home contingent on Sunday
Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell will be cheering for the home contingent on Sunday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We tried him over hurdles the last couple of times, but he’s not the same horse doing that.

“Hopefully his last run will have blown away the cobwebs for Sunday.”

Graham, meanwhile, is hoping Aye Right can make light of his big weight, prove himself at the marathon trip and gain overdue reward for his admirable but winless season.

“He has been so consistent, and he would be a deserving winner,” said the Jedburgh trainer.

“It would be really special for the owners Geoff and Elspeth (Adam), who are the ones who invested him as a three-year-old and have been very loyal to me and loyal to (jockey) Callum (Bewley).

“They are proper Scottish owners, keeping those horses trained in Scotland – and that’s what we need people to be doing up here.

“We don’t want them sending them to Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. We want good Scottish horses trained in Scotland – and it would be great, very deserving for the horse, and we’d be just totally made up.”

Graham is mindful of another tough task, but confident Aye Right is in fine form.

“We’re all ready to go and excited about it,” she added.

“He’s very well, and I think the ground will be right for him.

“It would have been lovely to be going off 10st 12lb, rather than 11st 11lb – that would be my only negative.

“He does like Ayr – he’s won there twice. Obviously there is a question mark about him staying, but we feel he will – he certainly finishes his races the way he starts them, he seems to me to warm up.

“He’s got that lovely galloping rhythm that makes you think he should stay. That’s the whole reason for stepping him up to nearly four miles.

“But that question will be answered on Sunday.”

Bewley returns, having had to miss Aye Right’s placed effort at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

“Callum knows him really well – it’s just twice he hasn’t ridden him (in 23 career starts),” said Graham.

“Obviously that’s an advantage.

“The Cheltenham race became quite messy. It didn’t go to plan for us, and he was in among the bunch with people jumping into him – and I think that just shows how tough he was, because he still ran on at the end.

“He is a really tough horse – whereas lots of horses might have got upset about that and stopped.

“We’re hopeful, but we’re realistic as well. It’s a long way and unknown territory.

“There’s a lot of nice horses in the race off lower weights, and there’s an argument for the lot of them – those ones carrying two stones less.

“There’s lots that have every right to win the race – but unless we are there, we’re not going to, so we’re giving it a go.”

Sam’s Adventure is another obvious threat, following his dour victory at Newcastle – but his trainer admits softer ground would have been preferable.

“Good to soft will be fine,” said Ellison.

“He would have won one day on good to soft at Kelso (in a novice hurdle won by Mighty Thunder), but he ducked out at the last.

“Basically, the horse is so well in himself. So we said we’d go for the Scottish National.

“The Midlands National probably just came a bit too quick after Newcastle. But he’s in great form – I couldn’t be happier with him. It’s just the ground (worry) obviously.

“That is an issue. He hasn’t had many chances on that kind of ground, because we’ve always thought he wanted it soft, heavy – which he does. He loves it.

“His form going into the race is great.”

The well-fancied Dingo Dollar was also a Newcastle winner, on stable debut for Thomson last month.

The Berwickshire trainer said: “This was the plan before Newcastle.

“It was always the plan to have a run, and hope it would be good enough, and then he would run in the Scottish National.

“He was favourite two years ago, I think (when with Alan King), but they didn’t run because of the firm ground.

“It should be all right this time, though.

“Unless you’ve run in a National, there’s very few horses that have run over this trip. But you would have to say he looks like he’ll stay all right.

“He’s obviously run some nice races, and I always knew what the plan was (when he arrived) – and fortunately so far, it’s coming to fruition.”

Champion jockey Brian Hughes will ride Dingo Dollar, with Sean Quinlan on The Ferry Master.

Thomson said of the latter: “There’s probably more of a question mark about him staying.

“But I thought we’d go at this stage of his career – because if he obviously doesn’t stay, then we will know that’s not where he’ll be campaigned, and be at three miles (instead).”

Nietzsche continues to do Ellison proud with Ayr victory

Brian Ellison was delighted to see Nietzsche bag his biggest victory over fences to date with battling performance in the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase at Ayr.

Winner of the 2018 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, the eight-year-old had been running consistently well in competitive handicap chases all season, most recently finishing eighth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Ridden by Johnny Burke, Nietzsche was a 6-1 shot for the Listed feature on the opening day of the Scottish Grand National meeting – and after taking over from Voix Du Reve on the run-in, had just enough in reserve to repel 15-8 favourite Not That Fuisse by a neck.

“He’s a star,” said Ellison.

“He’s won four races on the Flat, he’s won a Greatwood Hurdle and was third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham (in 2017). He probably would have won that day if he didn’t hit the front too early.

“He ran at the Festival last time and was third at Cheltenham before that. He’s a good horse.

“Johnny gave him a good ride. He wanted to get there after the last and that’s what he did.”

While out of luck with Not That Fuisse, Harry Skelton extended his lead in the race to be crowned champion jockey to four courtesy of a first- and last-race double.

The rider teamed up with brother Dan to win both the Tennent’s Lager Novices’ Hurdle with 4-9 favourite Stepney Causeway, and the Book Your Staycation At Western House Hotel Handicap Hurdle with 11-2 chance I’d Better Go Now.

Stepney Causeway was winning his fourth successive race over obstacles when scoring by 19 lengths in the opener, but could be set for a return to the Flat.

His trainer said: “He’s a remarkable horse, to be honest. He’s just improving rapidly and it was great to see him do it like that.

“On his first run for us we ran him in soft ground and right-handed and it turned out that’s everything he doesn’t want. We’ve since run him left-handed on better ground and he’s won four.

“He’ll have an entry in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock and he’s also entered in the Chester Cup. He won’t get in the Cup, I don’t think, but he could get in the consolation race (Chester Plate).

“The horse in the last (I’d Better Go Now) is very good fresh and Harry gave him a brilliant ride.”

The brace took Harry Skelton to 143 winners for the season, with reigning champion Brian Hughes on 139 after drawing a blank.

His brother added: “Harry is four clear, but I keep saying it, it’s not enough!”

Both jockeys are in action at Bangor on Saturday before returning to Ayr for Sunday’s Coral Scottish Grand National.

Aye Right leads Scottish charge in search of home National victory

Scottish trainers will be strongly represented at Ayr on Sunday as they try to keep their own Grand National trophy at home for the first time since 2012.

Harriet Graham’s Aye Right is ante-post favourite for the Coral-sponsored showpiece, but must concede weight to all his 22 opponents following his string of placed efforts in hugely-competitive races.

Graham trains a small stable of eight alongside her role as clerk of the course at Musselburgh and Perth, and has overseen the Ayr showpiece herself too when covering for maternity leave.

The Jedburgh handler describes Aye Right as “the star of the yard”, although victory has eluded the eight-year-old this season despite his series of gallant performances.

Aye Right (right) finishing second behind Cloth Cap in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury Racecourse
Aye Right (right) finishing second behind Cloth Cap in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Aye Right was third behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, second in Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy and again runner-up in Doncaster’s Listed Sky Bet Chase.

Also third in the Ultima Chase at Cheltenham last month, he is one of nine Scottish-trained runners in this weekend’s big handicap.

Aye Right’s rivals travelling north include Sue Smith’s surprise Ultima winner Vintage Clouds and Brian Ellison’s Eider Chase hero Sam’s Adventure – as well as Paul Nicholls’ Soldier Of Love, Dan Skelton’s Oldgrangewood and Notachance from Alan King’s yard.

“I’m really, really proud and privileged to be training him,” Graham said, on a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“Let’s remember his owners, Geoff and Elspeth Adam, who are Scottish as well – and Geoff has had horses in training in Scotland for many, many years.

“He’s right behind keeping his horses in Scotland to be trained – he’s been incredibly loyal to me and to the jockey, Callum Bewley, who’s also Scottish.

“I’m probably the least Scottish of the lot of them, having been brought up in Devon, but I have lived in Scotland now longer than I’ve lived in England.”

Graham will be up against some of the most powerful yards in Britain – but she believes running a smaller operation has its benefits, and is not intimidated by her high-flying opponents.

“We’re taking on the people with the numbers, which we obviously haven’t got,” she said.

“I think small trainers can give the individual horse much more hands-on contact – I don’t think anybody should ever be frightened of going to Cheltenham or Aintree from a small yard if you’ve got a good enough horse.

“We are doing it as a smaller trainer because we want to stay small – we don’t want large numbers.

“I want to know my horses and I want to know my owners really well. It’s just a different model of going into it.”

The community surrounding Graham’s yard is equally engaged in the success of Aye Right, having followed his near-misses – and he will be well supported as he looks to return the title to Scottish soil.

“It’s a real racing area here, and everyone’s into their horses,” she said.

“They’re all asking after him and saying he deserves to win one.

“When you look at his form he definitely does – there’s a really nice, good feeling behind him.”

Although Graham is naturally hoping Aye Right can cross the line in front, she would be delighted with any Scottish winner – and, with a smile, even served up a cheeky reference to home domination akin to last month’s Irish success at Cheltenham, which caused such consternation for many in Britain.

Mighty Thunder, ridden by Blair Campbell, on the way to finishing second in the Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter racecourse
Mighty Thunder was runner-up in the Marston’s 61 Deep Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter (Mike Egerton/PA)

“It would be lovely if it was Aye Right – but it would be lovely if it was another one of the Scottish trainers as well,” she said.

“Maybe we could have the one-two-three-four – with Aye Right number one!

“That would be a good headline, ‘What are the English going to do about the Scottish runners?!'”

Prominent among others capable of delivering a home victory is Lucinda Russell, who runs both Mighty Thunder and Big River.

Kerry Lads was second for the Kinross trainer back in 2004, and she would love to go one better.

“When I first started training back in 1995 it was always the aim,” she said.

“It’s a race over four miles, and I tend to train stayers – even back in those days – so it was always the aim for the horses.

“Kerry Lads got us very close. He was second and placed a couple of times, so it’s always been an aim.

“I think it’s a race that would just complete my CV. It’d be rather nice.”

Merigo provided the most recent home win, taking the race in 2010 and 2012 – and before that, Scottish trainers had been out of luck for decades.

Russell, who became only the second Scottish trainer to win the Grand National at Aintree when One For Arthur prevailed in 2017, has since noticed an increase in investment in the racing industry north of the border.

“I do think that four or five years ago, racing was really in the doldrums up here,” she said.

“I think it’s really picked up – we’re attracting a lot more media exposure, which is great.

“The owners have invested money in really nice horses, (and) the trainers have upgraded their facilities.

“It’s not just going to be this year. I think in the future you’ll find a lot more Scottish influence in the Scottish National and in the big handicaps.

Grand National winner One For Arthur pictured with Lucinda Russell at her yard in Kinross, Scotland
Grand National winner One For Arthur with Lucinda Russell at her yard in Kinross (Ian Rutherford/PA)

“It’s fantastic and it’s credit to the owners who stick with us and look after us and keep investing in horses with us.

“Hopefully it’s the start and it will continue – and it won’t be long before we have more Scottish winners of the Scottish National and of the other big races down south as well.”

Russell has also noticed an increased sense of camaraderie between northern and Scottish trainers, particularly after her 66-1 success with Ahoy Senor in the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

“I think that there is a really good bond between the Scottish trainers and the northern trainers, and there’s quite a buzz about the place,” she said.

“When you have a winner at Aintree in a Grade One and your peers come up and say well done to you, rather than being too competitive about it, I think it’s just a better feeling. Is that (as a result of) Covid? I’m not sure, but I think it might be.

“We’re a little bit more emotional and a bit softer about things, realising that we’ve got to do it for the good of the sport up in here in Scotland.

“We’ve got to keep supporting it and promoting it, whoever it is that’s doing the promoting.”

Williams on Ayr weather watch for Five Star Getaway

Christian Williams is all set to head to Ayr with the fast-improving Five Star Getaway – as long as there is some cut in the ground at the weekend.

The Glamorgan trainer has given Five Star Getaway two options on Sunday, including the Grade Two Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Novices’ Chase.

But the former point-to-pointer is more likely to go up in trip to three miles for the first time under rules in the CPMS Novices’ Champion Handicap Chase as he bids to extend his winning sequence over fences to four.

Five Star Getaway is a rapidly improving novice chaser
Five Star Getaway is a rapidly improving novice chaser (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Five Star Getaway has improved more than 40lb in the space of a month as two-and-a-half-mile victories at Wincanton, Sandown and Haydock have put him on the verge of graded class.

Williams said: “We thought we’d just put him in the Grade Two as an option – but the main aim will be the novice handicap, if we have a drop of rain.

“The ground would need to be as it is now, or a little bit easier, for the owner to decide to run.”

Whatever the immediate future holds for Five Star Getaway, Williams already has high hopes the lightly-raced seven-year-old can progress further next season.

“We’re hoping he’s going to be a staying chaser for next season,” he said.

“It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t have another run this year. But he’s in good form, and if the ground is right, it’s good prize money and we’ll try to support the meeting with a nice horse if we can.

“He’s had plenty of runs in the space of four or five weeks, but he seems in great form at home and carries his condition well.

“He’s a horse we get excited about every time we run him.

“He’s just a very good physical specimen, as well as being a good racehorse – so we’re hoping he’ll keep progressing, and we’ll be excited going into next season as well.”

Lake View Lad tops 31 in contention for Scottish National

Early Aintree faller Lake View Lad tops 31 remaining hopefuls for the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

Nick Alexander’s grey, who made it as far as the first fence in Saturday’s Grand National, may be granted the opportunity to make amends in the Scottish equivalent eight days later.

Lake View Lad will carry top weight of 11st 12lb if taking part on Sunday, just above Harriet Graham’s hugely consistent top handicapper and new big-race favourite Aye Right in a race which appears set to feature a strong home challenge.

In the notable absence from Monday’s confirmations of the well-touted Galvin – Northern Ireland trainer Ian Ferguson’s Cheltenham Festival winner, unbeaten over fences this season – Takingrisks may yet bid to retain the crown he claimed in the last running of this race in 2019.

Nicky Richards’ veteran was pulled up behind Minella Times at Aintree two days ago but features among the possibles – alongside Sue Smith’s shock Cheltenham Festival winner Vintage Clouds, in the Trevor Hemmings colours also worn by Lake View Lad.

Others who catch the eye, in a race whose maximum field is 30, are Paul Nicholls’ trio of Truckers Lodge, Highland Hunter and Soldier Of Love as well as Brian Ellison’s Eider Chase winner Sam’s Adventure and Notachance for Alan King.

Lucinda Russell bolsters the chances of an overdue home success, with her Midlands Grand National runner-up and Edinburgh National winner Mighty Thunder the likeliest of two contenders from her Perth and Kinross yard ahead of Big River.

She said: “Both Mighty Thunder and Big River are in there.

“Big River needs soft ground, so we’d have to have a wet end to the week (for him to run).

“Mighty Thunder is in very good form and has come out of his Uttoxeter race very well, and I think he’s suited by these marathon trips.

“We’re just getting excited now. We’ve got a week to get him right for Sunday.”

The Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle is also a feature race on the card which has been put back 24 hours because of the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh on Saturday.

Iain Jardine’s Voix Du Reve tops the weights in that limited handicap, for which there were 12 confirmations.

Among them are three more for Nicholls – Sussex Champion Hurdle winner Diego Du Charmil, Scaramanga and Thyme White.

Neil Mulholland’s Milkwood is the likely favourite after finishing third in the County Hurdle.

Scottish National and Greenham moved to Sunday as mark of respect for funeral of Duke of Edinburgh

The high-profile meetings at Ayr and Newbury scheduled for Saturday have been switched to the following afternoon as a mark of respect for the funeral ceremony of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

It was announced on Friday the Duke of Edinburgh had died at the age of 99, with his funeral to take place at Windsor Castle next weekend at 3pm. A national minute’s silence will be observed as the ceremonial royal funeral begins.

Sporting bodies have been in discussions regarding plans for next Saturday’s fixtures, with the Football League announcing that matches scheduled to begin at 3pm will be rearranged.

Jockeys, owners and trainers stand for a two-minute silence at Aintreee
Jockeys, owners and trainers stand for a two-minute silence at Aintree (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The British Horseracing Authority has now confirmed no racing will take place in Great Britain between 2.45pm and 4.15pm – and as a result, the Coral Scottish Grand National fixture at Ayr and the Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials meeting at Newbury will now be held on Sunday.

Saturday’s meetings at Bangor, Thirsk, Brighton and Nottingham will go ahead but with different start times to ensure races do not clash with the ceremony. Start times will be announced on Monday.

The BHA said in a statement: “British racing will continue to appropriately reflect the period of national mourning at fixtures through to Saturday, April 17, including wearing of black armbands and flags flying at half-mast.”

The sponsors of the Scottish National feel the switch “is definitely the right thing to do”.

it would feel entirely inappropriate to stage the race next Saturday under the circumstances.

“This is definitely the right thing to do out of respect for the occasion and the Royal family, and we would like to commend the BHA and the various stakeholders for the speed and flexibility they’ve shown in making this decision,” said Simon Clare, Ladbrokes Coral PR director.

“Scottish Grand National day is a day of celebration of one of the sport’s most prestigious races and it would feel entirely inappropriate to stage the race next Saturday under the circumstances.

“The fact we are racing behind closed doors means it is much easier to shift a big meeting back a day than in a normal year, and we are very appreciative of ITV’s support in agreeing to broadcast the meeting on Sunday.”

Dame delivers on chasing bow at Ayr

Cheltenham Festival winner Dame De Compagnie made a victorious debut over fences in the Western House Hotel Gift Vouchers Novices’ Chase at Ayr.

Not seen since justifying 5-1 favouritism in the ultra-competitive Coral Cup last March, the eight-year-old mare had to travel a long way from Henderson’s Lambourn base to find a suitable beginning for her new career.

Despite one blunder on the first circuit, she jumped well in the main – and while she faced a fine rival in Cornerstone Lad, a Fighting Fifth winner over hurdles, Dame De Compagnie had far too much pace in the straight and pulled nine lengths clear under Nico de Boinville.

The sponsors cut the winner into 5-1 from 10s for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but Henderson appears lukewarm on that idea.

“She was great, she made just the one mistake, and when she did it I said ‘she won’t do that again’ – and she didn’t,” he said of the 1-2 favourite.

“I’m not sure there’s an awful lot she can go for in March. She’d ideally want two and a half miles, but then you meet Envoi Allen (in the Marsh Novices’ Chase).

“There’s the new mares’ chase, but that’s not really for novices – after just one run, that would be asking quite a lot.

“She beat a Fighting Fifth winner there, but to be fair the other horse hasn’t run to the form he showed when beating Buveur D’Air since – though I’m sure the handicapper might try to tell me he has!

“The trouble was we couldn’t find a two-and-a-half-mile novice chase for her – there was a lack of opportunities, and she was ready to go.

“I didn’t really want to run her over two miles. But with nothing else coming up, we had to get her in the box and head north.

“We’ll have to do some thinking (for her next target).”

Earlier on the card, Olly Murphy’s Champagnesuperover (6-4 favourite) got off the mark over obstacles in the EBF “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle, and jockey Adrian Heskin went on to double up on Warren Greatrex’s Timeless Beauty (7-2 favourite).

Nicky Richards sets sights on Scottish National for Takingrisks

Nicky Richards intends to work back from a second outing in the Scottish Grand National with former winner Takingrisks.

The Greystoke handler will once again target the Grade Three prize at Ayr in April with the 12-year-old, having saddled him to victory in the 2019 renewal of the race.

After failing to complete on his seasonal return at the Scottish track, Takingrisks underwent a wind operation before finishing fourth on his most recent start in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle

Richards said: “The main aim is to try to get him back to the Scottish National in good form. The old lad seems to be bonny at the moment.

“We were hoping to run him at Ayr the other day, but the meeting was called off, so we are now scratching our heads what to do with him.

“I would run him tomorrow if there was a suitable race.”

Trainer Nicky Richards
Trainer Nicky Richards (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A tilt at next month’s Eider Chase has not been ruled out by Richards, although it is far from certain he will go for the Newcastle marathon.

He said: “He needs a test of stamina, so it is no good sending him to Kempton or somewhere like that. He needs two or three runs before the Scottish National, though.

“The Eider is a gruelling race and it can knock the edge right off a horse. He would prefer better ground and I’m not sure running him over four miles at Newcastle is the right thing.

“We may have to go there and I suppose if he won the race, it would be great.”

One thing Richards will not be doing is switching Takingrisks back to hurdles given his below-par efforts over the smaller obstacles following his Scottish National and Rehearsal Chase triumphs.

He added: “I did toy with the idea of running him over hurdles, but I’ve done that a couple of times before and the old boy didn’t enjoy it.

“He wants to be enjoying things at his age and we need to get him firing on all cylinders before the Scottish National.”

Chepstow taking Welsh National precautions with frost covers

Officials at Chepstow are taking early precautions ahead of Saturday’s rearranged Coral Welsh National meeting by deploying frost covers.

Having lost the meeting on December 27 through waterlogging, the current cold snap is now a cause for concern.

Clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty said on Sunday afternoon: “Tomorrow (Monday) is quite a warmish day with temperatures of 3C or 4C.

“As the week goes on, Wednesday and Thursday we only have highs of 2C and Wednesday is the coldest night at -3C.

“Wintry showers are possible on Thursday, but they are hit and miss. Friday into Saturday we are forecast -1C or -2C which is why we are putting the covers down now while we are raceable.

“We hadn’t had a frost overnight last night so by getting the covers down now we’re hoping to be fine.”

The cold snap is threatening to play further havoc with upcoming fixtures as Ludlow’s card on Tuesday and Ayr on Wednesday both face inspections.

Ludlow will inspect at 9am on Monday with parts of the track currently frozen. While the course was unraceable on Saturday there was some hope for warmer temperatures on Sunday and Monday.

Ayr’s meeting on Saturday was called off at the 11th hour due to a frozen track and due to another extremely cold night their meeting on Wednesday is already in doubt.

Temperatures dropped to -6C on Saturday evening and are not scheduled to get much above freezing for the next couple of days.

An inspection has been called for 7am on Monday but clerk of the course Graeme Anderson tweeted: “With below freezing forecast for next few days there is very little chance of improvement.”

Sunday’s meeting at Fairyhouse did, though, survive a morning inspection.