By Iain Ferguson
The roar of the 18,000 crowd creates a dramatic soundtrack as up to 30 racehorses gallop round the four mile course of the Coral Scottish Grand National negotiating 27 fences on the way.
As the leading runners and riders enter the home straight for the final time the cacophony of sound hits new levels as the battle for glory reaches its closing stages.
This is one of the most thrilling sights in British sport and the rewards reflect that with horses running for prize money of £200,000 with £112,540 of that sum going to the winner.
No wonder then that the very top horses, trainers and jockeys descend on Ayr Racecourse every April for the Coral Scottish Grand National Festival for two days of the best National Hunt racing in the country.
This year’s Festival takes place on Friday April 21 and Saturday April 22 with the Coral Scottish Grand National being run at 3.35pm that afternoon. There are 15 races in total with Friday’s highlight being the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase and Saturday’s main supporting races including the Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle, the Scotty Brand Chase, the Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Chase and the CPMS Novices’ Champion Handicap Chase.
There are seven races on Friday with a further eight on Saturday and total prize money of £608,000.
This year sees a return to normality after several years of disruption to the race. In 2020 it was abandoned due to the pandemic, then in 2021 it was run behind closed doors again due to Covid-19 and was also held on a Sunday owing to the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral being on the Saturday.
Last year the Festival was brought forward for one year only from its mid-April slot to the first weekend in the month but is back to normal this year.
Ayr Racecourse Managing Director David Brown said: “We’ve been working hard to get our biggest race in the jumping calendar back up to £200,000 and we’re delighted our ongoing partnership with Coral has helped us make sure the Coral Scottish Grand National Festival will be one of the biggest two-day jumps fixtures of the year.
“The race is a major part of sporting life in Scotland and we look forward to hosting another high-class field of staying chasers for an event with a rich racing history, with our supporting races over the two days sure to attract major interest from Britain and Ireland.
“The Saturday is virtually always a sell-out and will almost certainly achieve that again this year. This Festival provides quality racing over the two days and also becomes the focal point of British horse racing for these 48 hours.
“Most of the country’s leading jockeys and trainers will be in attendance and ITV Racing screen five races live on their main channel. The focus is really on Ayr Racecourse and the Festival is something we are immensely proud of.”
The Coral Scottish Grand National boasts some enviable statistics. It is the fourth biggest race of the year in the UK in terms of betting turnover and the CSGN sweepstakes are held in offices, pubs and clubs throughout the country.
The television audience for the race peaks at more than 1,100,000 making it one of the most watched horse races anywhere in Europe.
One man hoping to ride the winner of the Coral Scottish Grand National is jockey Ryan Mania who rode Auroras Encore to win the Grand National at Aintree in 2013 and would dearly love to add the Scottish version to his CV. Based near Kelso in the Scottish Borders Ryan has twice been second in the Ayr race – in 2012 on the aforementioned Auroras Encore and in 2021 on Dingo Dollar.
Ryan said: “It’s a race I’d dearly love to win and who knows this could well be the year as I hope to have a mount for my step father-in-law Sandy Thomson who trains several horses who might have a chance.
“I’ll never forget winning the Grand National 10 years ago and it would be another huge achievement if I could win the Scottish version at Ayr in April. The race is one I really enjoy riding in and I think I speak for most jockeys in the weighing room when I say the Coral Scottish Grand National Festival is one of the meetings we all look forward to riding in.”
Scottish trained horses have a fairly good record in the race with Merigo winning for trainer Andrew Parker in 2010 and 2012, coming second in 2011, and in 2021 Scotland’s leading national hunt trainer Lucinda Russell won the race with Mighty Thunder.
Entries for the Coral Scottish Grand National close on April 4 and the runners will be confirmed two days before the big day.
As David Brown says, the Saturday normally sells out in advance but bookings can be taken on 01292 264179 or by going online at www.coralscottishgrandnationalfestival.co.uk
The Coral Scottish Grand National is one of the most prestigious and famous events in the Scottish sporting calendar.
The two-day racing Festival attracts thousands of racegoers to Ayrshire and boosts the local economy by more than £10 million. Hotel rooms are booked out within a 15-mile radius of Ayr and there’s huge spin-off for restaurants, bars, taxi companies, hairdressers and many more local businesses.
Here is a fact file on Scotland’s greatest horse race.
The Scottish Grand National was first run as the West of Scotland Grand National at a course near Houston, Renfrewshire from 1858 until 1866.
The course in 1858 consisted of 32 jumps, mostly stone walls.
The race moved to Bogside Racecourse, Irvine in 1867, approximately 10 miles from Ayr.
First winner was The Elk owned by the Duke of Hamilton and ridden by John Page who also rode the winner of the Grand National that year (Cortolvin).
The race was first televised in 1953 and again in 1954 both by the BBC. Then there was no live coverage until ITV took over in 1969 and it remained on that channel until Channel 4 took over in 1986. ITV then resumed screening the race in 2017 and remains the channel that shows the action.
The race was last run at Bogside in 1965 and won by Brasher, trained by Tommy Robson and ridden by Jimmy Fitzgerald.
The first running of the Scottish Grand National at Ayr was on April 30, 1966 and it was won by African Patrol, ridden by Johnny Leech and trained by Bobby Fairbairn.
Ferdy Murphy (Paris Pike 2000, Joes Edge 2005, Hot Weld 2007) and Nigel Twiston-Davies (Captain Dibble 1992, Earth Summit 1994, Hello Bud 2009) have both trained three Scottish Grand National winners.
The only horses to have won the race three times were all at Bogside – Couvrefu II in 1911, 1912 and 1913, Southern Hero 1934, 1936 and 1939 and Queen’s Taste 1953, 1954 and 1956.
Since the race moved to Ayr in 1966 only one jockey has won the race 3 times – Mark Dwyer on Androma in 1984 and 1985 and Moorcroft Boy 1995.
Coral started sponsoring the race in 2007, the year it was won by Hot Weld ridden by PJ McDonald who is now a top flat jockey.
Two trainers have won the race five times – Ken Oliver in 1963, 1970, 1971, 1979 and 1982 and Neville Crump in 1949, 1959, 1968, 1980 and 1983.
Mr JV Rank is the only owner to have won the Scottish Grand National four times in 1934, 1936 and 1939 with Southern Hero and in 1938 with Young Mischief.
Shortest winning margin in the race is a short head in 1904 when Innismacsaint beat Expert11, in 2005 when Joe’s Edge beat Cornish Rebel and in 2006 when Run For Paddy beat Ladalko.
Biggest winning margin in 1877 and 1885 when Solicitor and Wild Meadow both finished alone. Since the move to Ayr the largest winning margin was in 1983 when Pappageno’s Cottage beat Master Perie by 20 lengths.
The highest priced winners of the race were Astral Chalmer in 1981 and Iris De Balme in 2008 both at 66/1.
Shortest priced winner Wild Meadow at 2/9 in 1885.