“Racing is definitely the priority this weekend!”
You could hear the excitement in Jimmy Fyffe’s voice as he ran through his four runners declared to run on Day 2 of Ayr’s Scottish Grand National Festival, which will take place in front of a sell-out 15,000 crowd.
The Dundee United director is hoping his boyhood club can beat Hibernian to secure a place in the Scottish Premiership top-six but it’s another big victory he’ll be chasing on the southwest coast of Scotland this Saturday.
Fyffe watched his runner Blue Flight finish fourth in the race in 2019, the last time it was staged in front of spectators but he reckons his contender this year, Hill Sixteen, could give trainer Sandy Thomson a first winner in Scotland’s marathon four-mile contest.
“I’m looking forward to it. Jumps racing is a real passion of mine and to have a runner in the Scottish National again is brilliant. I think we’ve got a really good chance as well, so it’s going to be an exciting occasion.”
Fyffe, who has 26 horses in training spread across the UK and Ireland with nine different trainers, stated: “Seven of those are with Sandy now and he’s a total gentleman.
“I like to support Scottish trainers firstly but the reason I do it is because I always feel if you have all your horses in one stable and that stable went wrong then I would struggle to have runners.
“Sandy’s got great training facilities but he’s told me he needs a big win in the Scottish National to put him on the map again, so hopefully it’s Hill Sixteen in first place with The Ferry Master in behind us!”
Hill Sixteen is set to carry top weight during the stamina-sapping test but the nine-year-old is a classy operator having finished second in the Grade 3 Becher Chase over 3m2f at Aintree in December before hitting the crossbar again in the Listed Premier Chase at Kelso last time out.
Fyffe added: “The weight is a slight concern but we’ve tried to combat that by booking Jack Andrews who is able to claim 5Ibs. I’m very confident he will stay the distance.
“We ran him in the Welsh National (at Chepstow) but the ground was horrendous that day and he just didn’t like it from the get-go.
“We put a line through that race then went to Doncaster for the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster to try to get him up qualified for the Grand National. He was fourth but was finishing like a train.
“The handicapper put him down 2Ib which was a blow for us, but he ran a cracker at Kelso last time and got put up 9Ib for finishing second which was absolutely ridiculous.”
In direct competition with Fyffe on Saturday is another of Thomson’s owners, Nick Bannerman, who runs the 12-member Potassium Partnership and are represented by The Ferry Master.
The lightly-raced nine-year-old was bought by Thomson for £10,000 at the Goffs Sales in the summer of 2019 and has proved a shrewd purchase, winning three times and displaying a good level of consistency.
The Ferry Master tackled four miles for the first time last year and finished a very creditable fourth behind stablemate Dingo Dollar and eventual winner Mighty Thunder.
It was a performance that whet the appetite of Bannerman as he talked up his horse’s chance of being involved in the finish once more.
“We were part of a double-hand last year and I think the view in the stable was our lad might have committed for home a bit too soon,” he stated.
“It’s always a rough race but for a relatively young horse he ran very well. People say he didn’t quite stay but he had a very interrupted preparation
“Sandy seems to have him in great shape now. He goes on any ground but he’s probably most effective on good ground, which it looks like we’re going to get.
“He was very unlucky to lose at Newcastle, albeit we thought he would need the run. He’s a very good jumper and is 5Ib lower than he was last year.
“Ryan Mania (jockey) always thought he had the potential to be a 140-rated horse. We thought ‘crikey’ that would be quite nice!
“I’m sure Ryan will try to deliver him late over the last fence. If we turn into the home straight in the first seven or eight then we’ll have a helluva chance.”
Bannerman’s association with Thomson goes back a long way having played rugby against each other in the Scottish Borders.
The managing director of Scottish cashmere producer Johnstons of Elgin has been involved in racehorse ownership for over 20 years but revealed he still struggles to watch his horses in action.
Asked what it would mean to lift the Scottish Grand National, Bannerman admitted: “It would be amazing if we could lift it. I’m quietly confident but that’s all you can be in a race of this nature.
“I think Sandy has filled the second, third and fourth positions, so it would be nice to add a winner to that tally for him. It’s a great family operation and he’s got a fantastic team of staff who look after the horses really well.
“It can’t be easy for a trainer when you’re running two in a race. They always prefer to keep their horses apart.
“I’ve not actually met Jimmy (Fyffe) yet at previous stable visits, so our paths haven’t crossed but I’m sure we’ll have a good chat in the parade ring beforehand.
“You’ll pick us out easily in the parade ring as we’ll all be wearing our blue and yellow scarves (the colours The Ferry Master runs in).
“I don’t often get nervous. I’m usually fine up until the horses get down to the start. That’s when I normally turn to my brother and say ‘why do we do this?’ because at that point my stomach is absolutely churning.
“I’ve been keeping myself busy at work and have made sure to tell as many staff as I can that our horse is running and he’s got a good chance but not to come after me if he doesn’t win!”
Explaining the decision to name the syndicate ‘The Potassium Partnership’, Bannerman added: “We got the name because my brother Rory’s daughter fell badly ill when she was very young.
“She contracted meningitis and we didn’t know if she was going to pull through. She actually died in the ambulance and was brought back to life, so it was a very serious situation.
“The one thing the doctor said they were looking at was her potassium levels and if they rose then she was probably going to make a full recovery.
“So when Rory decided to buy a broodmare he said ‘why don’t we call it the potassium partnership’ because it gave us a sense of hope, so that’s what we decided to do.”