One such horse lines up in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr this afternoon, Aye Right, for whom victory would represent a fitting and overdue reward for a season in which he has run his heart out without reaping the glory his labours deserved.
Trained by Harriet Graham near Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, Aye Right, the National favourite, has yet to win this campaign, but, in the highest handicap company, has finished in the first three five times out of his six runs, including a third place behind Vintage Clouds in the Ultima at Cheltenham. Without fear of contradiction, he has always gone down fighting.
His battling qualities were never more evident than in the SkyBet Chase at Doncaster earlier this year. Leading over the last, having led all the way, he looked the likely winner, only to eventually succumb to Nicky Richards’ Takingrisks after an almighty tussle. It was one of the races of the season.
Aye Right is certainly classy enough, but his lack of another gear in the closing stages can often be his undoing. His connections realise this, but hope the longer distance of today’s National – just under four miles – may help him in that respect, with the emphasis more on an ability to stay rather than end-of-race speed.
Graham said: “Yes, he lacks a bit of speed at the end of his races, but that’s why we’re hoping the extra few furlongs will help. He’s never gone over this distance before and we don’t know for sure he will stay, but it all points to the fact that he will.
“After every race, although he’s not been the fastest, he always seems to be the freshest coming back to the paddock, while Callum [Bewley, his regular jockey and on board today] says he has to pull him up at the end of his races.”
Of course, Aye Right, as the one of best horses in the race, carries a hefty weight, 11st 11lb, but, running on the good ground he prefers for the only the second time this season, Graham hopes the eight-year-old can defy the burden. “He has won carrying this sort of weight in the past, so we are hopeful. I’d have loved for him to carry less than 11st, obviously, but we have to run the race as it’s laid out for us.”
Excitement levels at the Graham stable have built this week, with the calmest individual probably the horse himself – Aye Right, the undoubted star of the small, eight-horse yard, is known for his laid-back attitude to life.
“He’s absolutely lovely,” said Graham. “He’s so easy to train. He loves his work, he eats up well, sleeps well and spends hours simply looking out of his stable at the view over the Cheviot Hills. He’s really relaxed around the place, which is a real plus, although I must say he is not a relaxed horse to ride. He can be a handful.
“But it’s like a person. If they eat well and sleep enough, you feel a hell of a lot better than someone who worries all the time and doesn’t sleep and eat the proper food. Put it this way, he’s not the sort to pop into McDonalds on the way home from the pub.”
Graham, meanwhile, has dared to dream of victory. She said: “If we won, it would mean a colossal amount to our yard, to our owners Geoff and Elspeth [Adam] who have had horses with us for five to six years and who have been incredibly loyal to us.
“It would be a real big deal for the local area, too. The local farmers, the local shepherds, everyone knows him. Even the dustmen ask about him. He has a small, but very loyal following, and it would mean the world to us.We know this will be really hard to win, but we have him there in good shape and he’s ready to go.”
Another Scottish horse with sound claims appears to be Lucinda Russell’s Mighty Thunde, in the form of his life after beating all bar the well-handicapped Time To Get Up in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter last time and a 5lb rise for that effort looks fair. At double-digit odds, he must be worth an each-way bet.
Paul Nicholls’ Soldier of Love could also run a big race on the evidence of his four wins earlier this season and will certainly come to Ayr fresh after a five-month absence, while The Ferry Master also catches the eye.
But – and it may be my heart ruling my head – expect Aye Right, the glorious trier, to finally triumph this afternoon. It would be no more than he deserves, a fairytale end to the season for one of National Hunt’s favourite sons. Surely, no one would begrudge him that.