IT WILL go down as a glorious defeat in the best of Scottish sporting traditions. Jockey Ryan Mania and his valiant steed Auroras Encore failed to do the double yesterday in a nail-biting Scottish Grand National.
If they had been first past the post, the pair would have been the first to win both the Grand National and the Scottish Grand National since the legendary Red Rum in 1974.
Instead, the glory on the day went to Wayne Hutchinson, a young jockey from Swindon whose horse Godsmejudge romped home to victory by four lengths, while Mania and Auroras Encore failed to figure in the finish, having been in the rear for most of the race.
But for Mania, the 23-year-old jockey from Galashiels – the “Braw Braw Lad” as he is known in his home town – it was, perhaps, enough for him just to be back in the saddle after he suffered a serious fall two weeks ago at Hexham, the day after winning at Aintree.
After the race he expressed disappointment but said he felt lucky not to have fallen early on after another horse fell close behind him near the start of the race. After that, he said, he was “looking after himself”. And who could blame him?
Meanwhile, the theories abounded amongst the crowd as to why he had not fared better in a race that drew a record crowd of 18,500 to Ayr Racecourse yesterday – most of them glammed up to the nines in sharp suits, tartan trews and, for the ladies, high heels and even higher hats.
“Back when Red Rum did it there were three weeks between the two races,” speculated punter Robert Kean, who was looking glum after watching the horse he’d backed fall in the early part of the race.
“It’s not enough time to recover. The horse just ran out of steam.”
Others were mournful. “It would have been a bit of history,” said Maureen McLellan, who had come with friends from Paisley for the day. “And it’s always great to see a Scot do well.”
Mania became the first Scots jockey to win the Grand National at Aintree, making his own small piece of history. He confessed, after being released from Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle Upon Tyne, that he feared he might have been paralysed and, yesterday morning, he said that doing the double “wouldn’t be easy”. Later on he tweeted: “Can’t wait to be reunited with Auroras – trying to make history.” And in the relative quiet of the paddock shortly before the race, as the jockeys lined up for their official photograph, he looked excited. But it was not to be.
Earlier in the day, Mania had tipped Fill The Power on Channel 4 Racing as his charity bet – another horse trained by the legendary Sue Smith, who also trains Auroras Encore – but that horse, too, failed to figure in the finish. Perhaps, though, it was a sign of his own concerns.
One old timer in a flat cap and a stick propped up against the fence had seen it all before. He remembered watching Red Rum do the double here in 1974. “It was a bigger crowd that day,” he said. “The boy had a good chance today though,” he says, referring to Mania. Does that mean he bet on him then? He shook his head. “Nah,” he said with a smile. “Not today.”
Another had seen Mania win – at stonking odds of 66/1 – at Aintree two weeks earlier. “He’s getting the drinks in,” his friend laughed. For the bookies, any win is a good win. Mania was 12/1 – not quite the favourite, but not quite the odds of the Grand National either. At the stands, piles of cash changed hands as punters queued up to place their bets.
Norrie Drummond, who has had a bookmaker stand on this spot for nearly 60 years, said he’d been overwhelmed by how busy it had been. The bets placed, though, have been smaller.
“I think it’s the recession,” he said. “The bets are £5 or £10 a lot of the time. People don’t have the sort of money they did a few years ago to spend on the racing.”
And for some, of course, the races are all about a good day out. There were thousands intent on having fun. Alcohol was in full flow as busloads of mainly young people arrived for a day of rest, relaxation and racing. A group of young women dressed in glamorous dresses, high heels and fascinators sipped on champagne as they discussed the bets they had placed.
“I never back a favourite,” said Natalie Watson, 27, an events co-ordinator for a football club. Her friends had similar theories. “Mania’s Scottish, so it would have been great if he’d done it, but that’s not what’s going to make me bet on him,” said 28-year-old make-up artist Kelly Montgomery.
Perhaps racing is one of the world’s least sentimental places – the real interest lies in the roar of the crowd and the hope that the horse crossing the finishing line has its name on your betting slip.
While there was sadness that Mania hadn’t created history, for some there was delight at having their bets pay out, as many leapt in the air with excitement at their wins. “Ryan Mania’s young,” said Drummond. “He’s got plenty of races ahead of him. And at the end of the day, this is just one more race.”