THE question on every Scottish racing fan’s lips this week is will Auroras Encore try to do a Red Rum and win the Scottish Grand National after lifting the Aintree equivalent?
It would be the next best thing to a home victory in our biggest National Hunt race, for while trainer Sue Smith is based in Yorkshire, jockey Ryan Mania is a Galashiels lad and owners Jim Beaumont and Douglas Pryde are from Edinburgh while fellow owner David Van Der Hoeven is the South African-born director of a Glasgow finance company.
Beaumont is originally from Liverpool, but has been an adopted Scot for years. He’s a very well-known face in Scottish racing, particularly at his local track, Musselburgh. If anyone deserved a major success it is Beaumont, and as a strong supporter of Scottish racing, he is very keen to let Auroras Encore ride at Ayr.
It was back in 1974 that Red Rum last achieved this amazing double, and race sponsors Coral have Auroras Encore, which won the Aintree National at the odds of 66-1, as low 10-1 to do a Rummy.
There are two major question marks over Auroras Encore – can a horse which won a gruelling marathon come out a fortnight later and repeat the feat? And how will the 11-year-old fare carrying 11st 5lb around Ayr?
That’s 5lb more than he shouldered when finishing second in last year’s Scottish National, and while it is by no means a ‘stopper’ of a weight, it is a full 16lb more than he carried at Aintree.
Mania’s fall at Hexham means that he has not been able to ride Auroras Encore since, and the Scot only began riding out yesterday. Sue Smith and her husband Harvey will have the call on whether the favourite takes part, but they are making positive noises and if he runs, Auroras Encore should win.
Other leading contenders include Rival D’Estruval, carrying Raymond Anderson Green’s colours which were successful in 2010 and 2012 with Merigo, the Alan King-trained Godsmejudge and the JP McManus-owned Wyck Hill. Lucinda Russell could be represented by course specialist Nuts N Bolts and the Irish could be represented by the Gordon Elliot- trained Chicago Grey.
Of course every big race is now surrounded by a festival, and Ayr is no different, with the Coral Scottish Grand National Festival kicking off on Friday.
There are eight races each day and a total of £537,000 in prize money on offer with all the leading jockeys and trainers in attendance. Friday’s eight-race card is headed by the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase with £25,000 on offer and won last year by the Paul Nicholls-trained, Ruby Walsh-ridden The Knoxs. The day’s card ends with a competitive National Hunt Flat Race which again will attract some big name trainers and jockeys.
Main supporting race on Saturday is the QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle which has £60,000 in prize money and last year’s winner Raya Star, trained by Alan King, is likely to defend his crown.