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

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