In the bar of a hotel on the West Highland Way it is hoped cheers will ring out tomorrow afternoon, followed by the cry of “drams on the house!”
It is a fair few furlongs from Liverpool to Bridge of Orchy. However, the only Scottish- owned horse running in tomorrow’s Crabbie’s Grand National doesn’t want for support, or backers, in this picturesque corner of Scotland, just off the road to Glencoe, near Rannoch Moor.
The nine-year old gelding, bought by Oban-born Sandy Orr five years ago, is competing in his second Grand National. The locals at the Bridge of Orchy hotel, co-owned by Orr, are hoping Triolo D’Alene can earn them some pocket money while also generating local pride, even though the horse is a truly international enterprise.
Triolo D’Alene has a German father, a French mother, an English trainer (Nicky Henderson), an Irish jockey (Jerry McGrath) and a Scottish owner. But the flag he flies under is that of the Bridge of Orchy hotel, sponsors of the horse and a spiritual stable of sorts.
There were groans in the bar there two years ago when he failed to finish his maiden Grand National, pulling up at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit.
But this, plus a year’s inactivity after breathing and knee problems interrupted his progress, has not dimmed enthusiasm.
“Andrew McKnight, the managing director at the hotel, tells me there is a little local following; if they win and they go home with £100 in their pocket, it does endear people to the horse,” says Orr, 76. “I expect them to have the television on for the race, of course, and the colours – yellow and blue on the sleeves – are there in the bar as well,” he added.
“As you get older your eyes get dimmer and all that. I just thought when we were starting off, we should have bright colours so that through the mist and the gloom of an autumn day in Newbury or wherever, you would still know where the blooming horse was.”
Orr is a fairly recent convert, so the involvement of Henderson, among horse racing’s premier trainers, is something he appreciates. “Albeit we are very small owners, but nevertheless being in his team makes you feel you are on the edge of some kind of greatness,” said Orr.
The admission he succumbed so comparatively late to horse racing comes as a surprise considering he went to school in the 1950s at Loretto in Musselburgh, overlooking the famous racecourse.
“We were beaten if we got caught going to the races,” Orr exclaimed. “So being a physical coward as I was, that was not an option. I was not going to go across there and look at something I didn’t even understand and get flogged for it, so no, it did not start at Musselburgh.”
Rather, the love affair began a dozen or so years ago, after Orr, a one-time keen cricketer who opened the batting for Loretto, met his second wife, Caroline, from a family of horse lovers.
“What are you going to do when you can’t do…?” he said, when answering why he embraced the sport with such passion (he now owns four racehorses in total, another of which is racing today at Aintree).
“It’s frightening sailing a boat, you can’t play cricket any longer, and this is one of the great things where you can feel a part of a sport, and a great sport. It is very easy to fall in love with.”
Particularly on Grand National weekend, when the bars and hotels of Liverpool are full, and the chance, however slim, of victory is in the air.
As Orr knows only too well, not everyone can win. The odds are long for the majority of the 40-strong field. But Triolo D’Alene has at least tasted victory over the course before at the Topham, run over the Grand National fences.
He also won the prestigious Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in 2013, before his long injury lay-off.
The owner, or owners, of the Grand National winner usually throws a party but mindful not to jinx things, they are usually off-the-cuff affairs, and, perhaps, the better for it. “We will work it out very rapidly, if that eventuality comes about,” said Orr.
“He has a squeak of a chance. So we will think of something.”
One thing’s for sure, if Triolo D’Alene does emerge victorious tomorrow, a roar will be heard in the Highlands as well as Aintree.
Anyone passing will be welcome to toast the success in an unusually busy hotel bar at beautiful Bridge of Orchy.