There is no doubt that the Grand National at Aintree towers above all other events on the British racing calendar. So popular is the Merseyside marvel that it has inspired imitators far and wide. The USA has its own version, as do Ireland, Wales, and many more nations. Not to be left out, our friends north of the border stage their own marathon chase contest, in the shape of the Scottish Grand National, which takes place at Ayr in April.
Making its debut in 1867, this 4m contest requires the field to safely navigate 27 standard fences, placing great demands on the jumping ability of the runners, and the strength of the riders in the saddle. Whilst not on the same scale as its Aintree inspiration, the Scottish National remains one of the biggest betting events of the season and is far and away the most popular jumps race staged at Scotland’s biggest track.
Scottish Grand National 2023: Runners & Riders
- Dusart – Nico de Boinville
- Threeunderthrufive – Adrian Heskin
- Monbeg Genius – Non-runner
- Empire Steel – Ryan Mania
- Elvis Mail – Non-runner
- Kitty’s Light – Jack Tudor
- Malina Girl – Sean Flanagan
- Undersupervision – Sam Twiston-Davies
- Ruthless Article Tom Bellamy
- Lord Accord Richie McLernon
- Flash Collonges – Harry Cobden
- Cooper’s Cross – Sam Coltherd
- Nick Scholfield
- Flash De Touzaine Richard Deegan
- Manothepeople – Paddy Brennan
- Derek Fox
- Alex Edwards
- Patrick Wadge
- Conor O’Farrell
- Small Present – Sean Quinlan
Award Winning Ayr
Ayr’s 1m4f left-handed oval course is one of the fairest in the land, with the gentle sweeping bends and long 4f straight sections suitable to most types of horse. Home to both flat and jump action, the track features only minimal undulations, the most significant being the climb to the line in the home straight, which can prove particularly gruelling at the end of the 4m trip.
The obstacles featured on the Scottish Grand National course – of which there are nine per circuit – are on par with those seen throughout British Steeplechase events and certainly not anything like the weird, wonderful, and imposing fences at Aintree. That is not to say that they are without their challenges, with the open ditch three from the finish notably tricky.
The Scottish National invariably creates a compelling spectacle, and those in the stands are well placed to enjoy it, with the quality of the facilities on offer regularly seeing Ayr crowned the Best Racecourse in Scotland and the Northeast.
Most big races on the jumping calendar benefit from a full festival of supporting action and such is the case with the jewel in Ayr’s crown. The Scottish Grand National Festival takes place over a Friday and Saturday in mid-late April each year, usually the week after the Aintree equivalent.
A total of 15 exciting National Hunt events are on offer across the two days, with the headline act serving as the centrepiece to a bumper eight-race card on the Saturday. Other highlights at the meeting include the Grade 2 double act of the Scottish Champion Hurdle and the Future Champion Novices’ Chase.
Aintree Legends on the Roll of Honour
In common with the Aintree Grand National, the Scottish version of the race is also a Grade 3 handicap affair. The total prize money of £150,000 (2023) is some way below the £1 million on offer at the Liverpool highlight but still places the race amongst the most valuable races of its type of the season.
Given the premium placed upon staying power and jumping ability, many runners well suited to the Aintree test also go well in this event. Indeed, a number of famous names have recorded the National double over the course of their careers, including Music Hall, Little Polveir and Earth Summit, but the only horse to win both races in the same season is the legendary Red Rum, who achieved that feat in 1974.
Age Trends: Not Too Young, but Not Too Old
Whilst open to chasers aged five and older, those with at least a little experience under their belts tend to fare best. No five-year-old has ever come home in front, whilst the future Grand National winner, Earth Summit (1994), is the only six-year-old to have prevailed as of 2023. At the other end of the spectrum, Willsford is the oldest winner in the history of the race, having entered the winner’s enclosure at the grand old age of 12 in 1995. Seven to nine year olds boasted the best record between 2000 and 2023, with 16 of 23 winners falling into that bracket.
With the ground often on the soft side, this can prove an arduous test, particularly for those runners lumbered with a big weight. Of the 23 renewals between 2000 and 2023 (there was no race in 2020 due to the global pandemic), only three were won by a runner burdened with more than 11st3lb, with 15 winners carrying less than 11st.