Seldom Inn out to continue Scotland's National success story
Scottish racing should be on a massive high. One For Arthur gave the country a long overdue Grand National win when galloping to glory at Aintree this month; Musselburgh received praise for its ambition when an expensive card earned it a spot on ITV4's coverage last weekend; and now the nation's richest race throws further focus on the sport.
But this is a confusing time for Scotland. No sooner had one vote for independence been cast than another is being debated. No sooner has the national rugby union team elevated itself above laughing stock status than all but two of those brave souls are snubbed for Warren Gatland's Lions.
And racing in Scotland is far from immune to this phenomenon. No sooner had One For Arthur given the nation its first Grand National winner for 38 years than one of its biggest courses, Musselburgh, was revealed to be in disarray and on a temporary licence due to budgeting concerns.
Just one of the 30 runners in the £215,000 Coral-sponsored marathon represents the host nation, but in Sandy Thomson's Seldom Inn, One For Arthur's jockey Derek Fox, who warmed up for his task with a 50-1 winner at the course on Friday, has the chance to complete a rare personal big-race double and steer home just the third Scottish winner of the race since 1982.
One For Arthur himself makes a guest appearance in the paddock at noon and will be followed by former stablemate Lie Forrit in a Retraining of Racehorses parade that also features Monet's Garden, Peddlers Cross and Cinders And Ashes among others in a cuddly appetiser to the racing.
Return of the mark
Paul Nicholls turned round last season's trainers' title tussle with Willie Mullins when Vicente landed the Scottish Grand National and, while even a one-two would still leave him some way shy of Nicky Henderson in this year's championship showdown, it is still a prize worth winning, and he brings the trophy-holder back to Ayr on the same mark from which he triumphed by by two and three-quarter lengths 12 months ago.
Stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies has opted for the Trevor Hemmings-owned eight-year-old over the year-younger Arpege D'Alene, who has followed Vicente's 2016 path here through the Cheltenham Festival four-miler – also the same route as 2011 winner Beshabar and 2013 hero Godsmejudge. Missed Approach is the other runner to come from the festival's longest contest.
Like Nicholls, Henderson saddles three in the big one, with Premier Bond favourite despite Nico de Boinville being aboard Sugar Baron.
Looking through the whole card it is easy to conclude that Henderson wants to kill off all possible speculation of a late Nicholls charge.
With Beware The Bear and Laurium in the opener, L'Ami Serge and Peace And Co in the QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle, Vaniteux in the Listed Scotty Brand Handicap Chase and Pym in the Skyform Group-sponsored bumper, he has matched Nicholls for quantity and quality and appears to be taking no chances given his rival somehow managed to overhaul Mullins, who was 1-8 for the title at the start of this day last year.
Class acts on show at Newbury
Newbury's Flat card is similarly stacked with classy individuals, and none more so than the exciting Midterm. As if being the first foal out of the wonderful racemare Midday, by supersire Galileo, was not exciting enough, he is trained by a man famed for his ability to slowly bring his horses along in Sir Michael Stoute.
It is rare one of his stars is not better at four than at three and, given Midterm finished last season finishing just six and a quarter lengths adrift of Almanzor in the Champion Stakes at Ascot, he was fairly useful at three. He could be a bit of a superstar this season as Stoute has won the John Porter four times in the last ten years with the likes of Harbinger, Arab Spring and Dartmouth.
Connections opted to run 1,000 Guineas third favourite Dabyah here in the Fred Darling rather than in Newmarket's Nell Gwyn, which they won anyway with Daban. Dabyah faces Lowther winner – and Frankel filly – Queen Kindly, who represents the Richard Fahey yard that is in riotously good form.
If Dabyah can overcome Queen Kindly, John Gosden could be in for a good day as he has won the Carter Jonas Maiden on the last three occasions he has had a runner.
What's more, he has landed it with a subsequent Group winner, so while one of Face The Facts or Master Singer is sure to let down his 100 per cent record (dead-heat aside), both could be worth following.
Also to be considered is the Roger Charlton-trained Kazawi, a brother to the same connections' brilliant Al Kazeem, and the Roger Varian-trained UAE King, a Frankel half-brother to Kazawi's sire Dubawi.
Talking of Frankel, Dream Castle flies the flag for him in the JLT Greenham Stakes, and it looks a hot renewal too. Aidan O'Brien runs War Secretary and his performance should give the trainer a further marker for Churchill, the Qipco 2,000 Guineas favourite.
Meanwhile the only horse to beat Douvan before his injury in last month's Champion Chase is in action at Thirsk – in a 7f conditions race.
Like the plumber whose claim to fame is beating Mo Farah as a child, Konig Dax proves the peril of buying horses based on scant French form. He has had more trainers than runs since being bought by Paul and Clare Rooney in 2014.