Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Scottish Grand National Meeting

AYR – Friday 18th and Saturday 19th April 2008

Going: Friday – Good To Soft, Saturday – Good

The ground dried out very quickly over a few days, having originally been reported as heavy a day or two before the meeting.

The heroine of the meeting was LA VECCHIA SCUOLA. This versatile filly, a winner over 5 furlongs last June and a creditable fifth in a 3 mile Grade 1 novices’ hurdle at Aintree, won on both days of this meeting. On Friday, having been under pressure from a long way out, she came with a burst of speed to snatch the 2 mile mares’ handicap hurdle right on the line, just nicking it from BOLLIN RUTH, the latter having shown determination to hold off the others. La Vecchia Scuola came out in the opening novice event the next day and won with any amount in hand. Jim Goldie intimated that the tough filly may go for an event at Punchestown this week.

KERRY LADS was retired after the claiming chase on Friday. He’s been a good servant to the Russell stable for a number of years, but on this occasion couldn’t muster the pace to match AUNTIE KATHLEEN. Difficult to know quite what to make of the form, since the winner appeared to make significant improvement. The third GEEVEEM never seemed to be travelling that well and lost touch with the first two in the latter stages. CASH BONANZA disputed for a long way, but on handicaps marks he had a tough task and couldn’t stay with the principals in the straight.

REAP THE REWARD came from a long lay-off to take Friday’s 2m 5f novices’ handicap chase on his chasing debut. He ran on well for a comfortable win and he’s low enough in the handicap for the mark to be exploited in the next few weeks. One or two in the race jumped stickily, but Reap The Reward did the job nicely. The Robson stable followed up on Saturday when OVERSERVED won a handicap hurdle.

QUWS LAW won the 3 mile handicap hurdle on Friday. Having struggled in the sticky ground previously this one was suited by the drier conditions and won the race nicely. He has a sound record at the track to date. RATHOWEN came rattling home from the back to snatch second.

Apparently well considered NOLAND was put in his place in the Future Champions Novices’ Chase on Saturday. He was put in his place by STARZAAN who had too much pace on the flat. Noland has perhaps been hyped a little though, and strictly on the handicap figures the result was right to the length. FRANKIE FIGG was beaten but not disgraced here, leading to 2 out and then giving way, finding the opposition just a bit too strong.

The Scottish Champion Hurdle (a 0-160 Handicap) looked a very decent event. BORDER CASTLE found extra on the flat to hold TAKEROC, and in third the novice KALAHARI KING put up a cracking performance. FRENCH SAULAIE also performed creditably in finishing fourth. BYWELL BEAU made the pace, as is his way, and kept on when headed but could only finish sixth. He’s a bit between two stools at moment, since he’s erratic at chasing and high in the weights in handicap hurdles. LOUGH DERG, presumably trying for Order Of Merit points, found things happening much too quickly for him at two miles on this ground.

The Scottish National was won in impressive style by 66/1 outsider IRIS DE BALME. I would love to say I had been on the horse at those odds, but I only profited by virtue of drawing him in the office sweep! Clearly suited by the extreme distance and the decent ground, he whizzed away from the very decent Halcon Genelardais over the last two. Iris De Balme now goes for the Gold Cup at Sandown next week, though I feel he’ll find that a lot tougher, since it’s a different track and likely to be a classier event overall. HALCON GENELARDAIS lost nothing in defeat, since the rest were held. FLINTOFF finished well to take third and on this evidence may be a force in staying chases next season. OLD BENNY ran well enough in fourth if never quite getting to grips at the sharp end, and PHILSON RUN added another decent performance to his record in fifth. STRONG RESOLVE ran well for a long way, but faded from a mile out and finds this class tough these days. ANOTHER RUM trundled round at the back without getting to the leaders. NOIR ET VERT threatened briefly on the last circuit but fell away after a mistake at the twentieth fence.

MARCEL seems at his best in small fields. He beat 6 opponents over 2 miles here and performed similarly in a small field at Kelso the run before last. He found a more competitive event at Aintree too much to cope with. JEFERTITI has been in good form, but this class was too much for him and he was beaten by 40-odd lengths. However, I would imagine he’ll be in and pitching at Perth or possibly Kelso in the near future.

Ecclefechan trained MERIGO was an impressive winner of the 3m 1f Novices’ Hacp Chase (0-132), racing up with the pace and staying on well at the finish. He’s likely to stay further and is one to keep on the list for staying chases in Scotland and the north. BALLABRIGGS finished second, and I get the impression a bit more give would suit better, but this was a creditable run. I liked this one when I first same him, and I would expect the McCain stable to find a chase or two for him next season. James Ewart’s RAINING HORSE was going well when falling 5 out.

The National Hunt Flat looked a competitive event with a few piinters to the future. Kelso debut winner KNOCKARA BEAU confirmed that form with a solid second behind Paul Nicholls’ CONFLICTOFINTEREST. I’ll be looking forward to seeing KNOCKARA BEAU in Scottish novice hurdles next season. Lucinda Russell’s BRACKEN LAD ran well enough in sixth palce to give encouragement for the future.

Focus in Scotland now turns to the Perth Festival which commences on Wednesday 23rd April. The strength of entries suggests some competitive racing on ground which is likely to be good.

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