Harvey Smith has never been too bothered with the strictures of orthodoxy but he does seem increasingly serious about succeeding the late Ginger McCain as incorrigible scourge of the modern British “wimp”. For while his wife, Sue, is the one with her name on the training licence, the no-nonsense former showjumper has evidently overcome her initial alarm about the notion of giving Auroras Encore only a fortnight to recover from his 66-1 win in the Grand National.
If McCain could get Red Rum to follow up his 1974 Aintree success in the Scottish version, then nothing was going to stop Smith trying to do the same. While McCain might reserve his first benedictions for the two runners saddled by his son, Donald, he would certainly have approved of the young Scot who has hastened back from injury to partner Auroras Encore at Ayr today.
Ryan Mania's life has been turned upside down since Aintree – literally so, in the first instance, when he was airlifted to hospital after taking a fall from his very next mount, at Hexham the following day. Seldom off the airwaves since, Mania was relieved to get back to business on the first day of the meeting yesterday. He pronounced himself delighted not only with his timely recovery, from a fractured vertebra and ligament damage, but also with the way conditions were drying in his mount's favour. The going had been heavy the previous day, but ended up as largely good to soft after an afternoon of glorious spring sunshine. Perhaps somebody up there really is taking a benign interest.
But the fact remains that no Aintree winner since Bindaree, in 2002, has subsequently won a race of any description – and here is Auroras Encore trying to win the Coral Scottish National just 14 days later. Moreover, he has been raised 11lb by the handicapper, and must duly give weight all round. In fairness, he is still rated just 5lb higher than when beaten in a photo for this race last year, by a dual winner in Merigo, finishing 15 lengths clear of the third. That performance was the only one that feasibly telegraphed what happened at Aintree, and both were credited to the spring ground. It is possible, of course, that the horse generally thrives at this time of year. Even so, he surely endured a very taxing race in Liverpool – notwithstanding the fact that he jumped the last like a horse ready for another circuit – and it would be mildly astonishing if he could back up the form today.
As it happens, the Smiths might yet get involved with their other runner, Fill The Power being another likely to enjoy the improving conditions. But there is a chance that relatively conservative odds against Rival D'Estruval (3.50) still underplay his chance. Racing in the same colours as Merigo, he was expertly laid out for the four-miler at Cheltenham and had crept stealthily into contention when falling at the second last. Unexposed overall as a chaser – this is just his sixth start over fences – and especially over this kind of distance, he remains handicapped on form over shorter and on soft ground. A best price of 15-2 looks perfectly reasonable.
The possibility of a National "Encore" is not the only thing stoking the last embers of the jumps season, with Sprinter Sacre on course for Punchestown on Tuesday. But Tony McCoy, having sealed his 18th consecutive championship, will miss that meeting after suffering broken ribs in a heavy fall at Cheltenham on Thursday.
Nonetheless, the underlying momentum remains with the Flat horses, who complete a week of unusually interesting Classic rehearsals down at Newbury. The trial winners at the Craven meeting were far more convincing than has tended to be the case in recent years, and there remains scope for further upheaval in the betting today. Olympic Glory was beaten only by the outstanding Dawn Approach in five starts at two, but Moohaajim (3.30) can volunteer himself as a big threat to the Qipco 2,000 Guineas favourite in the AON Greenham Stakes. Impressive in the Mill Reef at Newbury last September, he shaped as if he would be better again at this kind of trip when running Reckless Abandon to a neck in the Middle Park.
In contrast, there must be a degree of doubt about Rosdhu Queen's ability to see out an extra furlong when she takes her unbeaten record into the Dubai Duty Free Fred Darling Stakes. Moreover, things rather played out to her advantage in the Cheveley Park Stakes last autumn, and it may pay to give a second chance to the disappointing favourite that day, Maureen (2.55). This filly had previously been shaping up really well and her genes give her better prospects at the trip.
Sir Henry Cecil has made a really encouraging start to life after Frankel and sends the retired champion's brother, Noble Mission, to the John Porter Stakes. But Model Pupil (1.50) seems to be on a steeper curve of improvement in their owner's second colours, and looks sure to relish the extra distance.
Levitate, meanwhile, faces odds as steep as Auroras Encore as he seeks to add the Berry Bros Rudd Spring Cup to his success in the Lincoln, not least as Global Village (2.20) finished best of all at Doncaster and is now better off at the weights. For the Lincoln and National winners both to follow up on the same day would surely be beyond even McCain's intercession.
CHRIS McGRATH'S NAP
Planetex (5.45 Thirsk)
Handsome Man (4.00 Thirsk)