Ferdy Murphy’s day at Ayr started on a sour note when Percutant was one of two horses to be fatally injured in the opening race, but Elzahann’s success in the Coral Backing Poppyscotland Mares’ Handicap Hurdle helped lift the stable’s spirits ahead of the Coral Scottish Grand National.
Percutant was travelling well in second behind the eventual winner Grand Theatre between the last two flights of the Artemis, The Profit Hunter Supporting Poppyscotland Novices’ Handicap Hurdle when he broke a hind leg.
He had to be put down and so did Freschezza, who sustained a similar injury on the turn into the straight, while Dancing Dik escaped injury when he stumbled badly on the same bend and unseated Lucy Horner, who emerged unscathed.
As a result of those incidents the course was inspected by officials, trainers and jockeys and they decided it was safe for racing to continue. Richard McGrath, who rode Freschezza reasoned: “The ground is perfect, the incidents were coincidences and they have done a good job with the ground.”
Murphy reflected that Percutant might well have won and was hoping for a good run from the useful Watch My Back in the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase but he was pulled up after five fences out.
So it was all down to Elzahann (15-2) to rescue something for the day and she ran out a convincing six-length winner in the hands of Keith Mercer.
Murphy went on: “Watch My Back pulled some ligaments in his back, but he will be all right – after he was beaten I thought we ought to go home, but we will be staying now!
“Elzahann has helped us out, she is a very nice horse who is going the right way and we have learned not to hit the front too soon with her – she is a good horse to go chasing with next season and she will be a grand mare to go to the paddocks in due course.”
The West Witton trainer was full of praise for Mercer and said of his stable jockey Graham Lee, who rides Nine De Sivola in the big race on his return to the saddle tomorrow following a 10-day suspension: “We really put him through the ropes this morning so he will be fit and I am very happy with Nine De Sivola. He is in good form so we are hoping for the best.”
Grand Theatre (16-1) was ridden by Davy Condon, and trainer Nicky Richards said before heading off to Sedgefield’s evening meeting, where he saddled a winner: “This is a nice horse we have always liked him. He just ran too free last time, we thought he would win and it would be a stepping stone to something better.
“When he settled today, I knew he would run his race, but I don’t know what the outcome would have been if Ferdy’s horse had not broken a leg.”
Martin Todhunter was another to enjoy a boost for his National challenge with That's Rhythm, when Tell Henry (13-2) showed the way home in that that Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase.
Todhunter said: “He has not run for a while because we have been waiting for some decent ground and planning for a spring and summer campaign with him.
“We will now aim him at a valuable two-mile-six-furlong chase at Market Rasen and then take him to Galway, though not necessarily for the Plate.”
Tell Henry was given a fine ride by James Reveley, who later gave up his ride in the final race after a fall from Ungaro in the Opin Systems Claiming Chase. He was taken to hospital for precautionary X-rays.
Kim Bailey was one of the trainers who inspected the bend, and in no doubt that racing should carry on he went on to send out Even Flo (7-4) to win the three-runner John Smith’s Novices’ Handicap Chase in the hands of Jason Maguire, who had ridden the ill-fated Percutant in the first.
Bailey was saddling his first winner at the course for five years, having had only one previous runner during that period, and he said: “There is nothing wrong with the bend, they were just unlucky.
“I did not have any intention of running the mare until I saw it might cut up, but she likes top of the ground and she has done it well.
“She has been wanting a wind operation and she may have it now – her owner John Perriss also owns Max Bygraves and he has now had five winners this season.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies and Paddy Brennan team up in the National with Hello Bud, and they completed a double with Distiller (6-4) in the Weatherbys Printing Handicap, and Andrew Nick (15-8), who deservedly got back on the score sheet in the claimer.
Solway Sunset, the 20-1 winner of the conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle in the hands of Ewan Whillans, will run in an amateur riders’ race ridden by Chris Dawson at Perth next Wednesday, according to trainer Lisa Harrison.
Ryan Mania, on his first day back riding after a three-month absence through injury, was suspended for three days (May 1, 2 and 5) for careless riding on fourth-placed Annibale Caro.