Ruby Walsh: Scottish National adds some spice to horse racing's twilight zone

Ruby Walsh: Scottish National adds some spice to horse racing's twilight zone

Runners circle before the start of the Michael Cawe Suspended Ceilings Handicap Hurdle at Ballinrobe yesterday. Picture: Healy Racing

It is that slightly weird time of year in the racing world — actually it happens twice a year — when each code starts to wind down but the other hasn’t really gotten into full flow, leaving the casual fans caught between two stools.

Well, that’s where I am anyway, because it was weird trying to revert my brain back to what happened last autumn as I watched the Nell Gwyn and the Craven Stakes on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile during the week. It was a touch frustrating watching the Queen’s Tactical scrape home in the free handicap at odds of 5/1, the same horse who bounded clear in last season’s Windsor Castle at the Royal meeting in June.

I suppose I wasn’t in the frame of mind to remember Arc weekend, so how was I going to recall last summer? But that’s my point. It is that time of year. My head is still jumping, thinking about tomorrow’s Scottish National, next Saturday’s finale of the UK jumps season, and the following week’s Punchestown festival.

But the action I was watching was like watching another sport: new names, new faces and a new code. But it’s not, because it’s on in the background all year round, just like National Hunt racing is, only there is so much of it. I guess I have made the unconscious decision to focus on the best.

Then again that’s all that excites me about any sport: the better action. I love rugby. Or maybe I just think I do because the Pro 14 has long since lost its appeal to me. I watch it from time to time but rarely set my clock by it like I would the Champions Cup for Irish provincial games or the Six Nations, regardless of who is playing. 

Like many other people, I will watch as many of the finals from this summer’s Tokyo Olympics as I can, but how many heats or first-round bouts will we watch? Match Of The Day and the Sunday Game are my Premier League and regular GAA fixes, so why I am so worried about being out of touch with the run-of-the-mill racing? Probably because I realise, I can’t keep up with it all. And I earn a living from it, so how do fans or punters stay abreast of all the action?

Focusing on the best of this weekend probably means Ayr tomorrow afternoon. The Scottish Grand National has been delayed by a day as a mark of respect to the late Prince Phillip, but whether the race is today or tomorrow will have little impact on the result.

Aye Right, for Scottish-based Harriet Graham, has been one of the most consistent horses in training in the UK this season. He finished third in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby in October, second in the Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury in November, second in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in January, and third in the Ultima at Cheltenham in March.

Being up just 8lbs for all his exploits gives him a massive chance in Scotland’s National Hunt feature event, tomorrow at 3.35pm. For consistency alone he deserves his day in the sun.

If, like me, you watched Shiskin labour around Aintree last week, then perhaps Tamaroc Du Mathan could be selected to beat Allmankind, who looked out on his feet behind Shiskin in last month’s Arkle Chase, when they clash in the Grade 2 Novice Chaser tomorrow at 3pm.

Right now, the very average midweek jumping action on both sides of the Irish Sea has the added excitement of two champion jockey battles. With just seven days left in the UK National Hunt season, Harry Skelton and Brian Hughes are having a ding-dong battle, while over here Rachael Blackmore is trying to peg back the sidelined Paul Townend before he hopefully returns to the saddle at Punchestown.

That challenge adds a rare-but-welcome side attraction for racing because trawling through the cards at Tramore and Dundalk tomorrow is tough going. Seven handicaps and one maiden at Dundalk is a bookmaker’s dream, although at least there are four conditions races in Tramore, which give punters some chance of finding a winner.

The Curragh today is a different ball game and if you can forego the frustrations of not being up to date with the form and simply watch the goings on, it is a card that will give you plenty of horses to follow through the next month.

All that said, Broome, having looked very impressive at Naas on March 28, should win again for Aidan O’Brien, this time in the Alleged Stakes at 3.10pm.

At Tramore tomorrow, En Beton can draw in the Adare Manor Opportunity Maiden Hurdle, and Memorable Daise can continue owner Nigel King’s fine run in bumpers with fillies trained by Willie Mullins.

Finally, reverting to my missed opportunity with Tactical last Wednesday, my mind has sharpened itself up for tomorrow’s Greenham, at Newbury, and Chindit, who looked a real star before flopping in the Dewhurst behind St Mark’s Basilica, can regain the winning thread.

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