Double-handed Sandy Thomson hopeful of ending Scottish Grand National hoodoo with Hill Sixteen & The Ferry Master

The Borders handler has been second, third and fourth in Scotland’s equivalent of the Grand National

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Dating back to 1858 and settling at Ayr Racecourse in 1966, the Scottish Grand National has been the centrepiece of the Scottish National Hunt season and has an impressive roll of honour to match.

Several past winners of the marathon four-mile chase have won the corresponding English race at Aintree, with the only horse to achieve an unlikely double in the same year was the legendary Red Rum in 1974 for trainer Ginger McCain and jockey Brian Fletcher.

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This year’s renewal features another strong 24-runner field, with the Christian Williams duo of Kitty’s Light and recent Eider Chase winner Win My Wings heading the betting.

Trainer Christian Williams celebrates his Welsh Grand National success with Potters Corner.

However, there is a powerful northern contingent aiming to keep hold of the £150,000 prize with Borders trainer Sandy Thomson double-handed for a second successive year.

He saddles top-weight Hill Sixteen and the lightly-raced The Ferry Master, who finished fourth in the race last year.

The two-day fixture, which began on Friday, is a meeting Thomson always likes to target but the feature contest on Saturday still evades him after years of trying.

The Berwickshire-based handler, who was out of luck on Day 1 with his three runners earlier today, admitted: “I certainly feel this fixture is a good opportunity for Scottish trainers to showcase their best horses but I think some others are a bit light on entries this year.

“The Scottish National is very competitive but we’re lucky that we’ve got some very good horses we feel will be competitive.

“Obviously, it’s a race I’ve always taken a lot of interest in since I was a little boy. I remember when Ken Oliver won the race back-to-back in the 1970s, so it’s great to be going there again this year with two good chances.

“Our quality of horse has improved and perhaps other trainers in the north don’t quite have the same.

Action from last year's Grand National Day at Ayr Racecourse. Photo: Jeff Holmes-Pool/Getty Images

“We have a great team of around 13 or 14 staff, a lot of them are local to our yard, so it’s big days like this and next week (Grand National at Aintree) you live for and are very special in this industry.”

It is an exciting stage of the season for Thomson’s team, who will be represented by last year’s Scottish National runner-up Dingo Dollar in next Saturday's most valuable jump race in Europe.

However, focus is firmly on this weekend as Thomson aims to finally end his Scottish National hoodoo after hitting the crossbar in recent years.

Discussing his two entries, Thomson said: “Hill Sixteen has got a lot of weight to carry but he’s earned that. He finished second in the Premier Chase at Kelso last time, which is a good pipe-opener for this.

“Unfortunately the handicapper put him up 9Ibs, which is going to make it more difficult for him but he’s got a lot of class.

“The Ferry Master ran a great race last year for being fairly inexperienced. This season hasn’t quite gone to plan so far but this race has always been his main target, so hopefully that plan will come to fruition.

Mighty Thunder ridden by Tom Scudamore (left) wins the Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase at Ayr Racecourse. (Photo by Jeff Holmes-Pool/Getty Images)

“He’s always been a very mature horse for his age and he’s still only ran a handful of times for a nine-year-old but that’s never worried me.

“We took both horses down to the beach last week. It’s something they enjoy and is just something completely different for them. They had a nice paddle in the sea and both are in great form.

“I’ve been second, third and fourth, so it hasn’t been the luckiest race for us, but hopefully that will change on Saturday.”

RACE HISTORY

The Scottish Grand National is a Grade 3 handicap chase run over a distance of about 4 miles (3 miles 7 furlongs and 176 yards, or 6,397 metres).

The race takes place each year in April and is open to horses aged five years or upwards. It is Scotland’s equivalent of the Grand National, and is held during Ayr’s two-day Festival meeting.

It sees 27 fences jumped, with the race first run at a course near Houston, Renfrewshire in 1858. It was later moved to Bogside Racecourse, near Irvine in 1867.

The race was first televised in 1953 on the BBC and and has been shown live since 1969.

When Bogside closed in 1965, the race was transferred to Ayr the following year.

Most successful horse (3 wins):

Couvrefeu II – 1911, 1912, 1913

Southern Hero – 1934, 1936, 1939

Queen’s Taste – 1953, 1954, 1956

Leading jockey at Ayr (3 wins):

Mark Dwyer – Androma (1984, 1985), Moorcroft Boy (1996)

Leading trainer All-time (5 wins):

Neville Crump – Wot No Sun (1949), Merryman II (1959), Arcturus (1968), Salkeld (1980), Canton (1983)

Ken Oliver – Pappageno’s Cottage (1963), The Spaniard (1970), Young Ash Leaf (1971), Fighting Fit (1979), Cockle Strand (1982)

Horses to complete Scottish Grand National & Grand National double:

Music Hall - 1920 (SN) & 1922 (GN)

Little Polveir - 1987 (SN) & 1989 (GN)

Earth Summit - 1994 (SN) & 1998 (GN)