Brave Merigo regains his Scottish National crown

 

If your repertoire is limited, winning your adopted country's premier prize not just once, but twice, is more than enough to keep your name in lights. At Ayr yesterday Merigo, trained at Lockerbie by Andrew Parker and owned by East Lothian businessman Ray Anderson Green, took the Scottish Grand National for the second time in three years.

And add that to his runner-up spot 12 month's ago it is easy to see why the French-bred 11-year-old is a firm favourite at his favourite track, given an ovation as he clawed back Auroras Encore on the run-in to keep the £102,000 prize north of the border by a head. "For some reason he just loves it here," said Parker, "but you have to add to that the fact he's got the heart of a lion."

Five of Merigo's seven victories have come at Ayr. Yesterday's victory came harder than his nine-length romp in 2010, though; the well-backed 15-2 shot, was flat out as he chased the relentless gallop set by Fruity O'Rooney and Garleton before he and the runner-up set to their own head-to-head.

"He's a superstar," said rider Timmy Murphy, son-in-law of the winning trainer, "but he's lost some of his pace with age. When he won last time he was almost running away with me, but this time the choke was out from a long way out. He couldn't go any quicker and it was his jumping, which was terrific, that kept him in it. He dug so deep for me, just never stopped trying for a stride."

Auroras Encore, who was a length clear over the last, was 15 lengths in front of third-placed King Fontaine, with Ballyfitz fourth. The 6-1 favourite Harry The Viking was never in contention, pulled up with a circuit to go. Only 10 of the 24 starters completed, but unusually none fell.

Merigo was the first dual winner of Scotland's marathon since Androma in 1985, and the first to regain the crown since Queen's Taste won his third in 1956. And if he and Murphy deserve credit for their efforts on the track, so does Parker for his behind the scenes. Merigo may have just the one trick, but pony he ain't, and getting an athlete of such size and bulk to his day of days in prime condition is no mean feat.

For battle-hardened Merigo, yesterday was the plan. For this season's Classic pretenders, the afternoon was only a step along the way, with the two trials at Newbury producing barely a ripple in the Guineas pond. In the Greenham Stakes for colts, it was relative experience that prevailed as Caspar Netscher, with 10 races in his first season under his girth, including a trip to the States, proved too good for Boomerang Bob and hot favourite Bronterre.

Though Caspar Netscher, now 25-1 from 40-1 for the 2,000 Guineas, coped admirably with the soft ground as he forged a length clear under Shane Kelly, his trainer Alan McCabe was adamant better ground would suit. "Shane said he did not relish it today," he said, "but he's a tough little horse and is still improving."

The winner of the fillies' equivalent, the Dubai Duty Free Stakes, Ralph Beckett-trained Moonstone Magic, made it two from two after her debut victory eight days before and has the Irish 1,000 Guineas as her target.

As Frankel's full-brother, Noble Mission has a daunting set of hoofprints to fill and a long way to go before he does. But he made a good start to his three-year-old career with a decisive success in the opening maiden at Newbury, stretching clear under Tom Queally and is now as short as 20-1 for the Derby. Frankel himself, is now back out on the Newmarket gallops after last week's injury scare, and back on course for the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury next month.

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