While many major equestrian events wait with bated breath to see how the hopefully post-Covid 2022 season will pan out, horse racing over the past four weeks has hoisted a flag of optimism, with record attendances at the racing festivals from Cheltenham through to Aintree.

The two events bring to a conclusion a season of National Hunt racing which enjoyed some memorable moments, but generally lacking in lustre as small fields were a feature of many of the meetings. Despite such large prizes on offer, the racing game would appear to be driven by caution on account of ground conditions and no wonder, with ongoing purchase and training costs so high.

As a fan of Saturday racing on TV, it is always good to see Scottish-trained horses do well and there would appear to be a wealth of talent north of the Border, with a good number of successful trainers and owners winning the prestigious 'Saturday' races (as the main ones have come to be called).

Heading the challenge has to be Lucinda Russell and her partner and former eight times champion jockey, Peter Scudamore, who manage to augment success round the Scottish and Northern of England tracks with successful forays south on a regular basis. Their Arlary House Stables, based near Milnathort, has become a serious name with which to be reckoned.


Lucinda Russell pictured this week with a resting Ahoy Senor at Arlary Stud

Lucinda Russell pictured this week with a resting Ahoy Senor at Arlary Stud

It goes without saying that their win with One For Arthur in the 2017 Grand National has gone down in the history books, however it could well be argued that the last four weeks in 2022 set a standard the envy of many.

The Arlary House star of the Aintree Festival this year had to be Mrs Wymer's and Peter Russell's Ahoy Senor, an impressive-looking seven-year-old gelding bred in Ireland where, like so many, he had his foundations on the point-to-point course. Formerly trained in Shropshire by Melanie Rowley for his breeder, DP Constable, he moved to Scotland in 2020, since when he has recorded five wins and three seconds from nine starts.

Affectionately known as Hank, at home, he has been successfully partnered throughout by the Arlary House stable jockey, Derek Fox, who rode the bay to victory in the Sefton Novice Handicap last year. In a lead-up to Aintree this year, the pair won at Wetherby in February and came second at Cheltenham in March.

They clinched a marvellous season by storming away with a five lengths victory in the Mildmay Novice Handicap Chase over three miles, with the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup an obvious target for next season.

No sooner had Hank's connections caught breath from his win, but further celebrations came soon after when another of the yard's stars, Haute Estime, came a creditable third in the Sefton Novices Hurdle following wins at Haydock and Kelso in 2021.

Although absent from the Aintree contingent, another winner from Arlary of note this year has been the consistent bay, Corach Rambler, which won the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, in March, with another win there in December and a win over the Aintree fences in October.

As much as the trainers, riders and owners attract most attention and publicity at the Grand National, my own interest lies with horses which are operating at the top of their game – or not, as the case may be.

Breeding plays such an amazing part in their success and I was particularly interested to learn that Ahoy Senor and Haute Estime were sired by leading sires at the famous Coolmore Stud, in Ireland. The latter is by the 2005 Epsom Derby runner-up, Walk in the Park, a grandson of Sadler's Wells, and a leading sire of NH winners – including the outstanding Willie Mullins trained, Douvan a winner of no less than eight Grade 1 races over fences.

Ahoy Senor follows a similar breeding pattern as he is sired by Dylan Thomas, an outstanding winner on the flat and hero of the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, at Longchamp, among many other victories during his illustrious career before retiring to stud at Coolmore.

As if by some coincidence, the 2022 Grand National winner, Noble Yeats, is by another leading sire at Coolmore – named after another famous author. Like Walk in the Park, he is by Sadler's Wells (a son of the great Northern Dancer).

Sadly, little has been said about the 50:1 winner of the Grand National which was a triumph as much for his trainer, Emmet Mullins, as it was for his jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, who has stolen all the national headlines. To be fair, it was a remarkable story as Waley-Cohen made much of his retirement with the National his last ever race.

Remarkably, he is the first amateur to win the great race within the last 32 years and holds the record as the most successful jockey, professional or amateur, to ride round the Grand National fences – additionally he has won some of the biggest races in the country.

Aged 39, with a very busy life – he is head of a large chain of dental practices across the country – he's a graduate of Edinburgh University and the son of Robert Waley-Cohen, a giant among the National Hunt fraternity and owner of the winning horse.

It is great pity that his win was followed by a nine-day ban (which will never be enforced) and fine by the British Horseracing Authority for the over-use of the whip during the closing stages of the race. It begs the question how the result can stand as a result.

Noble Yeats' trainer, Emmet Mullins, has an interesting story as he is grandson of the legendary Irish trainer, Paddy Mullins, and nephew of the current champion trainer, Willie Mullins, who is also his neighbour in Co Carlow.

This former jockey is no stranger to Aintree or the Grand National fences as he rode in the race as a young jockey. He also claimed victory on the Willie Mullins-trained Sir Des Champs when he won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2011.

The 31-year-old is slowly making his way in the racing world with a few horses currently in training. With Noble Yeats he has chosen to take him from the point-to-point field via a relatively stress-free journey to the National by avoiding the highly rated Group races and only scoring a win previously when he won a small race in Galway in 2021.

Obviously, he was purchased specifically to run in the National, an investment which may well go down in history as the best the Waley-Cohen's have ever made, particularly since the winner took home a sizeable £560,000 in prize money.

Young Mullins had chosen not to follow in the career of his father, George (brother of Willie), who is one of the world’s leading international equine transporters based in Ireland and whose fleet of 17 lorries travel all over Europe. Choosing against moving directly into the race horse industry, George does have an interest in show jumping with one of his horses, Jolly Jessy, currently located in Normandy, France, under the care of Scotland's very own Jemma Kirk, who is enjoying a good season with her on the continent.

Sadly, Jemma won’t be returning home to compete with her horses at her local Royal Highland Show this year, although show goers will be able to see Lucinda Russell in action as she will judge the conformation phase of the retrained racehorse class – her co-judge for ride will be Fife-based Morag Snow.

I mention ‘show goers’, however I am aware of the controversy surrounding the regulations which have been introduced regarding the necessity of booking tickets, members included. As a results, we have no idea as yet how many show goers there will be to enjoy the classes.

However, I notice from the first page entry of the equine schedule under ‘Miscellaneous information: Admission of members’ that ‘All members will receive one badge valid for admission on all four days of the show. The East, West and North Gates will be open from 7.00 am for admission of members presenting their badge.’ With no mention of tickets, this must surely come as a relief to members wishing to access the show before the gates formally open.

Looking further into the schedule, credit must go to the organisers who have responded to exhibitor demand by making full use of the on-line entry facility and with a closing date of April 29.