GRAND National-winning jockey Ryan Mania, who was thrown from his mount and injured on his first ride after his famous Aintree win, gets back in the saddle today with four scheduled rides at Ayr.
The Scot and Auroras Encore are also raring to go in the Coral Scottish Grand National 24 hours later when they attempt to complete the double.
No horse since Red Rum in 1974 has won the Grand National then added the Scottish version in the same year but Auroras Encore has a big chance of ending the 39-year wait for the rarely-attempted double.
His cause is helped enormously by the fitness of Mania, who will get back to business with four mounts in the first instalment of the Ayr meeting this afternoon. “I’ve been passed fit to ride, so I’ll be back to it,” the Galashiels rider said in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live yesterday. “It’s what we jockeys do, we don’t want to be off too long, missing rides and missing winners. It’s what we are in the sport for.”
Mania fell from Stagecoach Jasper during a handicap hurdle at Hexham on his first ride after Auroras Encore won the National, and spent two nights in hospital receiving treatment and having scans on back and neck injuries. However, he has proved what a tough breed National Hunt jockeys are by recovering from those bumps and bruises and getting back to action less than a fortnight later.
“I don’t want to miss my opportunities or miss any nice rides,” the 23-year-old explained. “I’m a little bit sore, but you would expect that from the injuries I have and I will get more physio at the course.”
Auroras Encore heads a field of 26 runners tomorrow’s showpiece.
Trainer Sue Smith’s 11-year-old recorded a shock 66-1 victory in the Aintree race a fortnight ago and, having gone up 11lbs in the weights, he has to carry a huge burden of 11st 12lb this weekend. Bingley-based Smith also has a second runner in the shape of Fill The Power.
Ante-post favourite Rival D’Estruval is in the line-up following his fall when still in contention in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Other leading contenders include Alan King’s Godsmejudge, David Pipe’s Midlands National winner Big Occasion, the John Wade-trained Always Right and Neptune Equester from the stable of Brian Ellison.
The sole Irish-trained runner is Thomas Gibney’s Lion Na Bearnai, winner of last year’s Irish Grand National but not seen since being pulled up in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury at the start of December.
Conditions at Ayr are described as “heavy” following substantial rainfall over the last 24 hours.
The two-day fixture kicks off today but acting clerk of the course Harriet Graham feels the ground could dry out again slightly ahead of the big day on Saturday.
Graham said: “We’re raceable today, but the ground is heavy. We’ve had 26 millimetres of rain in the last 24 hours but it’s dry and windy here at the moment and we’re only forecast another one or two millimetres, so we shouldn’t have any problems.
“We’ve saved some fresh ground for Saturday and those areas have taken the rain better than the rest of the track.
“We’re hoping the track could dry out before Saturday’s meeting but I think the best the chase track will be on Saturday is soft.
“The hurdle track is slightly more testing and I think we’ll probably be heavy in places on that track on Saturday, assuming the forecast stays as it is.”
Looking at today’s action, De Boitron has slipped to his lowest mark in nearly two years and he can make good use of his revised rating in the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase. Ferdy Murphy has not had the best of seasons but this nine-year-old can provide him with a bit of cheer after turning in an adequate effort at Musselburgh last time out. His fourth place there showed that perhaps he is not quite finished yet and off a rating of just 130, compared to a peak some 20lb higher a couple of years ago, De Boitron is worth a chance here.