Posts

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.

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).”

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.”

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.

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.”

Lost racecourses 2: The Elephant Man

Bogside racecourse stands - long gone

At around quarter to four tomorrow a craftsman will inscribe in gold leaf the name of the latest winner of the Scottish Grand National on a large oak board at Ayr racecourse. But the board and the race are both interlopers, as until 1965, they were both to be found 14 miles up the coast at Bogside racecourse, just outside Irvine. Read more