Friday 24 March 2017

Murphy pounces as Merigo is crowned king of Scotland

Ray Gilpin

Merigo ended a 28-year barren streak for locally trained runners as he ran away with the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr yesterday.

Ken Oliver's Cockle Strand was the last Scottish-trained horse to bag the country's premier jumps prize, in 1982 but Merigo righted that statistic with a superb staying performance.

Trained at Lockerbie by Andrew Parker, Merigo was sent off an 18/1 shot for the four-mile marathon and the result barely looked in doubt after Timmy Murphy kicked on after the fourth-last fence.

There were plenty of casualties in the race with the pace-setting According To John crashing out at the fourth fence, taking a couple of others, including fellow Robert Ogden-owned runner That's Rhythm, with him.

However, Murphy managed to avoid any trouble and was firmly in the driving seat some way out, committing Merigo before the turn for home and building up a handsome lead.

Last year's runner-up and 15/2 favourite Gone To Lunch emerged from the pack and set out in pursuit, but Merigo had already flown. He passed the line with nine lengths in hand while No Panic was a further 19 lengths back in third.

Owner Ray Green, who is also Murphy's father-in-law, said: "It's fantastic to win Scotland's greatest chase and it ranks alongside Sparky Gale winning for me at the Cheltenham Festival."

Murphy was thrilled to complete the family success, adding: "He jumped and travelled well and it is great for Andrew and particularly for Ray and Anita to have won this race. They are true patriotic Scots and it is great for them to win the country's biggest chase."

Earlier, Overturn provided Murphy with the first leg of scorching Ayr double in the Samsung Electronics Scottish Champion Hurdle. The classy rider claimed a significant Grade Two prize for the Donald McCain operation.

With regular jockey Jason Maguire suspended, Murphy emerged a more-than-able deputy. Overturn took an aggressive stance, forcing his rivals to begin the chase in earnest turning for home.

The 4/1 favourite pulled clear when pushed on, but Gloucester looked a real danger as he surged through the pack to lay down his challenge. Murphy still had a bit up his sleeve, though, and found another gear after the last. Gloucester began to toil in the final few yards but held off the thrust of Arcalis by a length and three-quarters to take second.

McCain said: "He'd come here twice and won twice, so we thought we'd enter him. He's improving with every run. The Swinton Hurdle at Haydock is a possibility."

On the level at Newbury, Dick Turpin sprang a minor surprise as he saw off better-fancied stablemate Canford Cliffs in the Bathwick Tyres Greenham Stakes.

Canford Cliffs was the first string from Richard Hannon's yard and stable jockey Richard Hughes elected to ride the 10/11 favourite. He was positive aboard the market leader, assuming control from the off, while Ryan Moore settled in behind aboard Dick Turpin (8/1) in the early stages with Arcano on their heels in third.

Hughes opted to kick on two furlongs out and it looked a case of how far he would win as Canford Cliffs hit top stride.

However, the favourite drifted right across the track, allowing his stablemate another chance. Dick Turpin then stayed on much the better to steal the glory by half a length.

VC Bet duly slashed Dick Turpin to 10/1 from 50s for next month's StanJames.com 2,000 Guineas Stakes.

At home, Kevin Prendergast recorded a double at Naas when Velvet Flicker landed the Woodlands Stakes Listed Race under Chris Hayes.

Prendergast had earlier seen his Zayaan (8/1) take the opening Naas Auction Maiden. Hayes, though, had to survive a Stewards Enquiry after Velvet Flicker had hampered Pat Shanahan and Rock Jock (8th) close home.

Sunday Independent

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