When I telephone Sandy Thomson, Seeyouatmidnight, the Berwickshire trainer’s Grand National hope, has just finished his last piece of work before Aintree. The 56-year-old Thomson is bullish. “He’s done a nice piece of work today – that’s the last he’ll do before the race. We’re very, very pleased, delighted with him, in fact. It’s all systems go for Aintree.”
Thomson’s confidence is infectious, his incredulity that his small stable even has a runner in the world’s biggest race rather endearing. “With all the money that’s poured into the game nowadays, that a little stable in Scotland could win the National would be unbelievable,” he says. “It’s amazing that we’re going there at all.”
Of course, the prospect of a second Grand National winner from Scotland just 12 months on from the victory of Lucinda Russell’s One for Arthur – sidelined by injury this season – requires a stretch of the imagination. Yet, the portents for Seeyouatmidnight, as Thomson recognises, are good. Midnight, as he is known at the yard, may be one of the underdogs in the National, but his bark has been heard loud and clear already in his career.
Winner of the Dipper Chase at Cheltenham in 2016, when he beat Blaklion, one of the favourites for this year’s National, a long-margin victory over subsequent Grade 1 winner Bristol de Mai at Carlisle, and a third place in the Scottish Grand National... this is form that would, ordinarily, warrant one of the more burdensome weights for the Aintree spectacular. The fact that the ten-year-old will carry only 10st 11lb, therefore, is a bonus, with Timeform, that esteemed aid to any would-be punter, saying of him: “Stands out at the weights if returning anywhere near his best.”
The last six words of Timeform’s assessment, however, are the nub of the matter and why Seeyouatmidnight, owned by Thomson’s wife, Quona, has been shown leniency by the handicapper. After a year out with fetlock and ligament injuries, Thomson’s charge returned at Newbury two weeks ago for his Aintree prep, finishing a respectable third, but does he retain the spark of old after such a long lay-off? Thomson is in no doubt of the answer.
“Yes, he has. He’s fully recovered. I rode him on the Thursday and Friday at Newbury and was delighted how he felt. Danny Cook [his jockey at Newbury] reported how good he felt, too, but said he just blew up after the last. Not to blow my own trumpet, but the one thing I have been able to do is get the older horses, like Harry the Viking, to retain their ability even though they have spent a bit of time in the wilderness.”
It is clear Seeyouatmidnight ticks many of the boxes that make up a National winner. As well as his lenient weight, the gelding has never fallen and his third in the Scottish National indicates that Aintree’s four-mile distance is well within his compass. He performs on any going, too. On paper at least, these are reasons for optimism ahead of the big race.
Yet, thoughts of Aintree must have been a distance away for the Thomson family when Seeyouatmidnight first entered their lives. Thomson and Quona had travelled to Doncaster sales to purchase a horse for someone else. Instead, they found themselves looking at a horse no one wanted to buy, with Seeyouatmidnight being led around the ring, having failed to reach its reserve price. For Quona, it was love at first sight. On crutches, she rushed off to find the owners, leaving her husband, as the story goes, in her wake.
“Why crutches? She hadn’t fallen off a horse or anything like that,” Thomson, who played rugby to Scotland B level in an earlier life, jokes. “It was an operation for an old ankle problem Quona had. It’s a nice story, though. And, yes, we found the owners and did the deal there and then.”
When they returned home to Lambden Farm, near Greenlaw, however, the Thomsons began to wonder what they had bought. Seeyouatmidnight showed them nothing. Even on the day of his hurdling debut at Hexham, expectations were so low that Quona, now Seeyouatmidnight’s unimpressed owner, was more concerned about getting son Tom to a rugby match than getting horse to the course, Thomson recalls.
When Seeyouatmidnight won there, though, the family realised the horse had real talent. “We knew then we had something a bit special,” says Thomson, who took out his training licence five years ago.
“He’s become a member of the family since, a lovely horse, great to have around the place. We had thought about constructing a National fence here, but decided against it. He’s very sensible. He’ll just give the first fence a look and, God willing, he’ll get over it and be on his way.”
Let’s hope so. At his present odds of 20-1, Seeyouatmidnight might just be worth a flutter.