Sunday, 26 April 2009

Scottish Racing Festivals 2009

Whilst many choose to venture down to Cheltenham and Aintree for their respective spring festivals I decided to venture off the beaten track and take in both the Ayr Scottish national meetings and the Perth Festival. I have been a regular attendee of the Perth festival for a few years now but decided it would be worthwhile to make a week of it and also take in the 2 day Ayr meeting the weekend before. The two day Ayr meeting began with a 7 race card on the Friday. It was a tough card to find winners on but fortunately I pulled off a couple of decent priced ones with Grand Theatre winning the opener at 14/1 before Tell Henry obliged in the 5th race at 9/1, a race in which I had also backed the 18/1 second. For the Friday we had paid the extra cash for the club enclosure which proved money well spent as the facilities were first class and one of the bar maids serving on the bar proving an ideal candidate for the future Mrs Walsh. It was however unfortunate that the course had decided to charge £40 for this enclosure on the Saturday, a rise of £16 from the Friday and this forced us into attending the main enclosure for the 2nd day.

After an enjoyable first days racing, the action didn’t stop there as the racecourse had arranged for two bands to play after racing including Irish band The Saw Doctors. A lot of racecourses could learn a lot from this as many people stayed on until the bands finished at 9pm although by this time many were wandering around “green” by this stage but everyone was impeccably behaved. It was then back to a few bars and a bit night clubbing in local town Irvine before heading back to my friends flat.

So onto day two and the quality of racing really picked up from day one with the Scottish National, Scottish Champion Hurdle and the Future Champions Novices Chase the highlights and all the top trainers, Nicholls, Henderson, King and Pipe having runners on the card. However with the increase in quality brought an increase in competitiveness and I was unable to find a single winner on the 8 race card with many of my selections running well below form including Coe and Medermit. I had arrived expecting to enjoy the Saturday card far more due to the increased quality but as it turned out the racecourse was just too busy for my liking with over twenty thousand being in attendance. As a racing fan I like to be able to view horses in the paddock, wander around the betting ring to view the best prices and get a good spot in the stands but unfortunately this was not all possible on the Saturday. This however is not the racecourses fault and I came out the two day meeting with high praise for the course and to be fair I still had an excellent day despite my lack of success. The atmosphere was again fantastic and my friends, who aren’t really racing fans all had a crackerjack of a time. We all ventured into the packed town centre afterwards where we had a few more drinks before calling it a day.

I then headed north to my parents house in Dundee to set up base for the Perth Festival which would take place from Wednesday to Friday. I had planned to attend Wednesday and Friday with Thursday being pencilled in if the opening day proved to be a successful. The three day festival has often clashed with the Punchestown in recent years but with the Irish festival falling a week later this year it proved to Perth’s benefit with some high quality horses entered and again all the major trainers having entries.

On the opening day I had picked out a couple of horses in Chicago Grey and The Market Man that I was quite confident in. Chicago Grey did the business for me at 5/2 in the first race but I had lowered my bet from my initial plan anticipating a long week ahead and this was to prove to my detriment somewhat as The Market Man was to prove a major disappointment in the novice chase. With six races having passed and only one with a winner it was left to Solway Minstrel to save me for the day in the closing amateur riders handicap hurdle. At 7/1 this one looked a big price running off the same mark as it had when I had witnessed this horse winning at Ayr the previous Friday . I was almost counting my winnings as this one travelled up strong between the last two flights and looked a certain winner but unfortunately as the line approached the race from the previous Friday appeared to tell and my selection was run out of things close home by the Sue Smith trained And Whatever Else. Again despite another unsuccessful day it was another enjoyable day. Perth is a completely different course to Ayr and everything on a much smaller scale but there is an undeniable charm about the place and having initially been under whelmed with the facilities after visiting Ayr I was soon reminded that Perth isn’t about any of that. Perth is all about the horses and atmosphere and a knowledgeable crowd.

I decided to skip Thursday card and watched those on TV before I made my way back for the final day of the Stan James sponsored festival. This was to be the yearly “scoop troop” visit after last years inaugural venture on the Friday. Unfortunately Dom was unable to attend this year with work commitments back down in Sheffield. So it was left to myself, Scott and Kenny to represent the troop for the day. We kicked off the day with a couple of beers in Perth pub “The Foundry” before taking the bus down to the course. The Friday of the festival is traditionally the busiest day of the week with many people opting for a 3 day weekend. This again proved to be the case with a large crowd in attendance. Having looked at the card in advance I had decided this would be a small stakes only day as the card was incredibly competitive. The first three races passed without a winner for any of us with the 2mile novice chase proving a particular disaster for Scoop Trooper Scott, who having advised us he was backing Salford City returned from the betting ring with cash still in hand advising “11/4 is widely available” and was informed by me that it was “bound to go 3/1.” Needless to say having returned from the bar discovering Salford City was now a 6/4 chance it romped home with Scott not having a penny of his money on him.

By this stage we had all pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact we were destined to ship further cash for the rest of the day. This was to change dramatically though with the running of the Press & Journal Highland National. As regular readers will know myself Scott and Kenny had all backed Laertes to victory in this race last year and he again lined up in this years renewal. It looked a fiercely competitive race and despite him being apparently completely out of form we all decided that we were obliged to back Laertes at his price of 14/1. With a circuit to go it didn’t look too promising for us as Laertes was being given reminders but his credit he responded in style and after a tremendous jump 5 fences from home it became clear that Laertes was the likely winner of the race. By the time the remaining runners turned from home it looked as if the horse just had to jump to win the race and this proved the case as the horse stayed on up the home straight to score comfortably, much to the delight of the three of us. I must say I have won more money many times before but the memory of Laertes’ victory is possibly my greatest racing moment to date. Thanks must also go to the Perth secretary Sam Morshead who arranged for us to have our photo taken with winning trainer Chris Grant who proved to be a top class gent.

After the high of Laertes win we all but lost interest in the remaining races and instead opted for a few celebratory drinks. This continued once we arrived back at Perth and then in Dundee late into the night. This ended what had been an absolutely fantastic week of racing. I would thoroughly recommend any readers North or South of the border should sample these festivals in future years. Whilst not carrying the glitz and glamour of the big festivals, those with a strong interest in racing simply cannot fail to enjoy the fayre on offer at either venue. Roll on Ayr and Perth 2010.


moDtheGod said...

I will definately be at Perth next year. 100%.

Also, lol at "...proving an ideal candidate for the future Mrs Walsh" and "wandering around green" :D

A nice read Will, if ever you fancy coming south of the border, let me know. We could meet at a more neutral venue, perhaps NE England.

I am meeting Tim on May 14th for the Dante at York. Hastily planned this afternoon, I'm now very much looking forward to it. I've also scribed a little bit on the 2000 Guineas, which looks a horrible race to sort out. That can be seen at

Mountain Man said...

Excellent reading as always, Will wp sir ! Almost felt as if I was there myself.

As Dom says above, we are planning York on May 14th, then out in Sheffield that evening, so if anyone fancies joining us in those activities they will be more than welcome, drop either of us a text/email/msn whatever and we will fill you in.