Once again the South-west Scotland committee hosted what must be one of the most popular evenings of the year.

Their gala night at Muirmill EC attracted huge crowds for its four classes, with most coming especially for the infamous Hairy Grand National. This is a bareback race around the outside edge of the arena over a couple of brush fences in heats until the winner is found.

As per usual, there were thrills and spills abound, including Finlay Hume being fired over the head of one pony and one young jockey setting off with enthusiasm in the wrong direction!

The crowd really got behind every race with cheers and oohs and aahs throughout.

Several fell off, a couple of ponies refused to play but emerging unscathed and impressively well ahead of the rest after a few races was Natasha McKee. Working for Mike Smith Racing just outside Kilmarnock, Natasha is used to speed and showed no fear kicking ahead of the rest.

Runner up this year was another young lady from committee member Mike’s yard, Amy Cree, who couldn’t quite get past Natasha in the final heat.

The Hairy Grand National was preceded by two fun and entertaining jumping classes starting the evening with the pony scurry. Parents, kids and all the supporters were wound up by commentator, Johnny Rowallan, building up a great atmosphere full of enthusiasm.

It all ended with a dead heat when two riders shared the same winning time. Coylton’s Annaliese Aitken who has had a busy year travelling at home and abroad was first to break the 40-second barrier galloping flat out on her super 148cm Dun The Business.

The challenger came in the form of the 138cm Marshways Perfect Puzzle and local rider Aimee Mason who stopped the clock on 38.67s which looked to have done enough.

Three ponies later and in came Wigtownshire’s Ruby McCornick on Kiltormer Curragh, a pony she has only for a few months. Turning and twisting to an identical route as Aimee she crossed the line then to the amazement of those watching the clock stopped on the exact same time down to the hundredths of a second to share the winners’ prizes with each other.

This class created such a buzz that the following six bar competition, where six fences are raised each round in a knock out type competition, that the yells and cheers could be heard from the car park outside.

Two young ladies battled it out to the final round where the last fence stood at a very impressive 1.5m, jumping right in front of the by now crammed standing area.

Clearing the last in style was another local rider Kilmarnock’s Kirstie Boyd on her good winner Elle Clover and invited rider Rachel Kane riding Martin Arnott’s top ride Queen Elisabeth.

Marion Brown rode her home-bred Abacus into third when he just rubbed a fence or two in the final round but tackled the biggest jumps of his career so far.

The final class of the evening was the senior masters in which a few invited riders jump round a shortened track then opt to have a fence raised each round trying to knock each other out with tactics.

What a pity there were only four forward, this class usually starts double this amount but after a few rounds and down to just two, Ayr’s Lucy Stewart jumped a careful clear on her superstar gelding Cancun then watched as Greg Taylor jumped a good round right up until the last fence on Jim Wilmer’s Formule 1, which just dropped his legs on the back bar to crown Lucy the winner.

This was yet another success for Lucy who has had a fabulous year including winning a fast and furious amateur final at Aintree just a couple of weeks earlier.

LEADING awards

SWS Gala Night 2017 – Mini Ponies – 1, Marshways Perfect Puzzle, A Mason and Kitormer Curragh, R McCornick; 3, Dun The Business, A Aitken. 6 Bar Challenge – 1, Elle Clover, K Boyd and Queen Elisabeth, R Kane; 3, Abacus, M Brown. Hairy Grand National – 1, J Hewitt. SWS Masters – 1, Cancun, L Stewart.