Merigo soars over a fence en route to winning Ayr feature for second timePICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Majestic Merigo reclaims Scottish National crown
Report: Ayr, Saturday
Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 4m110y, 5yo+
MERIGO, winner of Scottish Grand National in 2010 and runner-up last year, proved his liking for the Ayr marathon once more when battling to a hard-fought victory.
The well backed 15-2 shot, trained by Andrew Parker, vied with Auroras Encore (25-1) from three out in a thrilling duel before snatching back his crown by a head in the shadow of the post.
King Fontaine, a 40-1 shot, was third, while Ballyfitz, sent off at 33-1, came home fourth.
Jockey Timmy Murphy was given a dream of a ride in the £180,000 contest with Merigo prominent and jumping soundly over fences he knows so well. When push came to shove in what proved to be a thrilling climax to the marathon contest, the 11-year-old came up with the goods.
Parker said: "He's got the heart of a lion. He's a horse that is hard to get fit. He loves Ayr and loves sun on his back. To have won £350,000, we've done all right with him."
Owner Ray Anderson Green, the winning jockey's father-in-law, said: "To have won it once we were in dreamland but to come back and do it again, I cannot believe it."
At the 15th fence Merigo's consistent jumping had taken him to the front of the chasing pack behind leaders Garleton and Fruity O'Rooney just as the field was beginning to get strung out.
Quentin Collonges, bidding to match his namesake Neptune in the John Smith's Grand National, never made it out of mid-division and an error-strewn performance was brought to an end when he was pulled up before five out.
At that time Auroras Encore's jockey Ryan Mania found himself jousting with King Fontaine for the lead but Merigo was mounting a relentless challenge.
At three out Merigo was back in contention and jumped the penultimate fence just behind Auroras Encore.
Merigo conceded ground at the final fence and Auroras Encore looked to have stolen the vital advantage. However, the winner displayed a never-say-die attitude on the run in and was roared home to regain his crown.
There had been plenty of money for the favourite Harry The Viking, whose owner Sir Alex Ferguson was at the track. However, he was one of a number of leading challengers to wilt early and he was pulled up at the start of the third circuit.
Another prominent runner to make the long journey north and disappoint was Junior. The David Pipe-trained runner, who fell at the second in the John Smith's Grand National, was also pulled up by his rider.