Trained by Andrew Parker, son of the late Colin, and running in the green and yellow colours of Scotland’s most prolific owner, Raymond Anderson Green, Merigo won the race in 2010, beating Gone to Lunch by nine lengths under an inspired ride by Timmy Murphy, who is the owner’s son-in-law.
Merigo came back to Ayr last year and ran a superb race in second to Beshabar, beaten less than a length at the end of the four-mile marathon.
His early form last season was dire, as was his form for most of season 2009-10 before he won at Ayr, and frankly, he did not look too clever earlier this season either, but surprised a lot of people when he triumphed at his favourite track last month over a shorter distance.
That has put Merigo bang into condition for Scotland’s richest race, and both owner and trainer are confident of a big run with Murphy taking the saddle again.
Sponsors Coral currently have Merigo priced at 12/1, and I think those are amazingly generous odds for the horse who must be the best each-way bet in years. He will have the same weight of 10st that he has had for the last two years, and he will act on the ground whether it is good, soft or heavy, though I would be worried if it turned up firm. He is proven over course and distance and with Murphy back on top he will be in the money for sure.
The favourite for the race before yesterday’s Grand National at Aintree was Harry The Viking, part owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and trained by the champion trainer Paul Nicholls and probably going to be ridden by Ruby Walsh.
He is likely to remain around 6/1 or 7/1 and, although he is still a novice, there’s no doubt his second place behind Teaforthree in the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival entitles him to be rated a likely winner. Several horses who did not finish yesterday’s Aintree National hold entries for next week’s Ayr feature, but there was no indication from their trainers as to whether they would now come north.
Scotland’s leading trainer Lucinda Russell is likely to be represented by Red Harbour but Lie Forrit, trained in the Borders by Willie Amos, is a doubtful runner with the going currently good, good to firm in places.
Ireland’s hopes rest with the well fancied Portrait King, winner of the Eider Chase at Newcastle for Maurice Phelan and likely to be ridden by Denis O’Regan.
The main supporting race on Saturday is the Isle of Skye Blended Whisky Scottish Champion Hurdle.
Ayr also races on Friday with the feature race the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase. First race on Friday is 2.20pm, with gates open at 12.20pm, and on Saturday the action is under way at 1.40pm, with gates open at 11am.