Nicholls has a day to savour at Ayr
IT was a quiet moment just before the roars of triumph echoed in his ears.
Paul Nicholls stood in the paddock at Ayr racecourse and his sentiments were not yet coloured by a day that would bring him four winners, including the Scottish Grand National, and a lead in the race for the trainers’ title. This was in the immediate future. The Somerset trainer was surveying the present just before a spectacular day’s racing was to be unleashed.
“The Scottish tracks put some of their southern counterparts to shame. They are very supportive of trainers and owners and very welcoming,” he said. As he talked, the 16,000 sell-out crowd was swirling about in the distance and the best part of £600,000 in prize money for the two-day meeting had still to be contested. Nicholls was to lift £166,000 of this in one day with four winners. Vicente (14-1) won the £119,595 first prize in the Coral Scottish Grand National and Vivaldi Collonges (9-4 fav) and Le Mercurey (11-2) jointly added £40,000 in the novice chases. Gibbes Bay (5-1) lifted £6000 in the last, a bumper. This all took Nicholls into a narrow lead over Willie Mullins in the championship race with one week remaining in the season. It may yet be a title won in Scotland and that would be fitting for Nicholls is increasingly sending horses all the way to race here.
“We have had four winners at Kelso this year, so it shows that we are keen to compete up here. There is a great atmosphere here today and the prize money is good, so why would we not want to be here? The people here put a lot of effort in and deserve the results,” he said.
The major result of the day, of course, went the way of Nicholls. Vicente came with a perfectly-timed run under Sam Twiston-Davies and thwarted any hopes of Mouse Morris winning his third national of the season. His runner, Folsom Blue, finished well down the field and punters’ prayers for a home victory were also unanswered although Seeyouatmidnight, trained by Sandy Thomson at Lambden Farm in Berwickshire, finished third.
Vicente was aimed at the race by Nicholls, who will bid for his 10th title on home turf, with Sandown next week almost certain to provide a wonderful climax. With lucrative racing and a packed house, it was a wonderful day in the sun for punters, even if non-Nicholls backers suffered.
It gives substance to the hope that better times may lie ahead for an industry that has faced tough challenges in recent years. Ayr has reacted by investing and has reaped a dividend. Since the course was bought by local businessmen Alan Macdonald and Richard Johnstone in 2003 for £10.5m, more than £16m has been spent with new restaurants, an improved grandstand, track and parade ring. Prize money has also improved. The National meeting had £400,000 on offer in 2011, but, this weekend, £604,000 was up for grabs.
Peter Scudamore, who forms a formidable racing partnership with Lucinda Russell in Kinross, said: “There is a unique feel to Scottish Grand National day. It is marvellous that it is a sell-out. So it shows that the public will support racing in Scotland.”
Scudamore saddled Kilbree to finish a fine second to Vivaldi Collongues in a race that earned the winner £16,245.
“I just wish we had a little more support up here from owners. We do not quite have the ammunition,” he said.
NATIONAL HERO: Vicente first home