IF THERE is one thing that weather forecasters, racehorse trainers and tipsters have in common it is that we are all at the mercy of Scotland’s changeable climate which can make mugs of us all.
A few days ago it looked as if today’s Coral Scottish Grand National was set to be a long-distance slog through the mud after Ayr racecourse was hit by so much rain that there was standing water on parts of the Craigie track.
Yesterday was a perfect drying day, however, and the ground that was officially heavy on Thursday was soon changed to soft and then good to soft.
The times of yesterday’s races indicated that the ground was indeed firming up a little, and that will have left many trainers scratching their heads as their heavy ground specialists no longer have a mudbath in prospect. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how many of the 26 declared runners now go to post, and punters should really leave making their choices to the last minute to see what effect the drying ground is having.
Scotland’s top National Hunt trainer Lucinda Russell has seen her plans to run the popular 11-year-old grey Silver By Nature, owned and bred by St Johnstone’s major shareholder Geoff Brown, almost certainly scuppered by the improving ground.
Russell said: “There has to be a little doubt about him running because of the ground. When it was heavy ground I was very excited as four miles on the heavy is exactly his thing, but now I am not even sure that he will run.”
Bad news for the fans of Silver By Nature means an improvement in the prospects of Russell’s other entrant, Nuts N Bolts, who has winning form on good to soft turf and who is likely now to stay the four-mile trip which is uncharted territory for him on the racecourse. Nuts N Bolts was a highly respectable sixth in the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival finishing less than two lengths out of the places and also driving up the Cheltenham hill in the style of a real stayer.
“He has every chance,” said Russell. “He is an improving type, and his last run at Cheltenham made us believe that he would be able to stay, so after Cheltenham we prepared him for this.
“He is only seven, he has not been over-raced, and he has improved for the step up in trip.”
Nuts N Bolts is likely to be around 12-1 or 14-1 with the sponsors Coral, while Ladbrokes had him as low as 11-1 last night. Russell described the Coral odds as “very generous” and that’s a pointer to an each-way shot if ever there was one.
Champion jockey AP McCoy had been booked to ride Nuts N Bolts until his crashing fall at Cheltenham on Thurdsay, and while James Reveley was named the replacement rider last night, stable jockey Peter Buchanan - who was sticking by Silver By Nature - may yet be switched to Nuts N Bolts if Geoff Brown’s horse does not go.
Russell nominated likely favourite Rival D’Estruval as the main danger, with owners Mr and Mrs Raymond Anderson Green from East Lothian attempting to win the race for the third time in four years after their now retired Merigo won in 2010 and 2012. He has a favourite’s chance.
All the early publicity about today’s race centred on Aintree hero Auroras Choice and Scottish jockey Ryan Mania. The 23-year-old from Galashiels was rightly apprehensive about Auroras Choice heading into a quagmire just a fortnight after the Aintree National, but the change in ground will help the top weight’s case. The feat of winning both Nationals in the same season has only been done once, by Red Rum in 1974, and while Auroras Choice has a real chance, he is no Rummie.
Big Occasion from the David Pipe yard was all the rage after his Midlands Grand National win last month but he would prefer much softer ground than he will now face. The second in that Uttoxeter marathon is a very interesting contestant. Rebecca’s Choice is weighted to reverse the placings and his jockey Donal Fahy knows all about long-distance events – he won last year’s Mongol Derby, the world’s longest horse race at a ‘mere’ 620 miles.
Other fancied types expected to do well are Our Mick from the mighty McCain stable – they know how to ‘do’ Nationals there – and Godsmejudge, trained by Scots-born Alan King, who has relished the switch to staying chases.
Ayr’s management are expecting a massive crowd of around 18,000 – there are only a few club enclosure tickets left – and there are some superb supporting contests.
These include the QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle over two miles, for which the Paul Nicholls-trained, Ruby Walsh-ridden Sametegal is a confident selection, and the Arcadia Consulting William Dickie and Mary Robertson Future Champion Chase in which Lucinda Russell’s Tap Night is strongly fancied to win.
McCoy kept in
Tony McCoy was due to spend a second night in hospital following his bad fall at Cheltenham on Thursday. The champion jockey was forced to miss his intended book of rides at Ayr yesterday and will be replaced on his Scottish Grand National mount Nuts N Bolts by James Reveley.
McCoy, who will pick up his 18th jockeys’ championship title next weekend, fell from Quantitativeeasing when Nicky Henderson’s inmate stumbled at the second flight. Following assessment at the track, McCoy was taken to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, where he is now likely to spend a second night.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said: “Mr McCoy is in a comfortable condition. However, it does not look like he will be released this evening.”
The lucrative Punchestown Festival takes place in Ireland next week, where McCoy could expect to ride several well-fancied horses for his boss, JP McManus.
His mishap follows the fall suffered at Hexham by Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania, who also spent two nights in hospital. Mania fell from his first mount after winning the National, but returned to the saddle at Ayr yesterday and is reunited with Aintree hero Auroras Encore in the Scottish National today.