The largest Highland Games – the Cowal Games – attracts a crowd of around 23,000. Saturday’s Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr, while also a sell-out, will have around 8,000 fewer spectators. Clearly the caber toss, hammer throw and stone put still hold plenty of appeal!
Ayr will feature more tweed than tartan, but the mood is likely to be high as there has already been a ‘Scottish National’ winner this month.
At Aintree a few weeks ago, One For Arthur, trained by Lucinda Russell at Kinross, became only the second horse trained north of the border to win the Grand National.
One For Arthur was also originally given an entry for Ayr this weekend, but once he’d won at Aintree there was never any question of him being asked to do ‘a Red Rum’ who completed the Grand National-Scottish National double in 1974.
This year’s race takes place at 3.55pm, and while last year’s winner Vicente is back on the mark he won off 12 months ago. Southfield Royale is another who’s had a quiet season after rubbing shoulders with some top novices last term.
He looks the pick of the weights in an open contest.
The novices Premier Bond and Sugar Baron give their trainer a strong hand in a race he’s yet to win and both ‘Bond’ and ‘Baron’ (Samedi) featured in the film Live And Let Die for anyone wanting a 007 forecast. The name’s Henderson, Nicky Henderson.
Before One For Arthur’s success, the only Grand National winner trained in Scotland had been Rubstic, successful in 1979, who had himself twice finished runner-up in the Scottish National earlier in his career.
Jockey Paul Moloney – who announced his retirement this week – was born the previous October, however it is a younger Irishman, Mark Walsh, who will get the chance to shine on Winter Escape in the Scottish Champion Hurdle.
Walsh may only be riding Alan King’s charge due to an injury to Barry Geraghty but the man from Co. Kildare has an excellent chance of making his second ride at Ayr a winning one.
Winter Escape shaped well when fifth to Arctic Fire in the County Hurdle last time, is still unexposed and could appreciate this return to a flatter track.
Elsewhere on the card, it should pay to stick with Flying Angel in the Future Champion Novices’ Chase.
He’s been a class act this season, as long as it’s been away from racecourses that begin with the letter ‘C’, winning three times, and he can see off the C-Team of Cloudy Dream and Clan des Obeaux.
The ever-popular Beer Goggles flopped over fences earlier this season but has been as good as ever since returning to hurdles. He won here on Friday, backing up his earlier Newbury win and is definitely one to keep onside if he lines up again in the 2m 5f handicap hurdle at 4.30pm.