No Encore


Anyone who has endured my ramblings for the past few years will know I tend to be cursed when it comes to attending Scottish race meetings.

Be it meetings being called off after my flight has landed in Scotland through to Icelandic volcano’s spewing ash into the atmosphere.

I used to be a regular attendee at the Scottish Grand National meeting, mainly thanks to Ryanair.

Anyone who has used  Ryanair will know they do have a flexible grasp of geography when it comes to the location of their airports. For example what Ryanair call “Glasgow” is actually Prestwick Airport, which just happens to be four miles from Ayr racecourse – very handy indeed in this instance but a real pain if you actually do want to go to Glasgow, around 45 minutes away by train, almost as long as the flight from London.

Even better there was a flight which left Stansted at 08:10 Saturday morning with a return flight around 20:00 in the evening – perfect for a day trip to the Scottish National. Indeed on Scottish National day the flights seemed to be racing specials with racegoers, jockeys and southern based media all availing themselves of the service.

Mount Eyjafjallajökull errupting in 2010The last time I used that flight for the meeting was in 2009. I did have everything booked for the 2010 visit but a week before the National meeting Eyjafjallajökull erupted resulting in all flights in Western Europe being grounded.

2011 I couldn’t make the meeting due to other commitments, then last year I made the discovery that Ryanair no longer operate UK internal flights so the Stansted – Prestwick flight was no more.

I looked at other flight options but nothing was really that convenient or practical. The last Easyjet flights from Glasgow to London were too early in the evening and I didn’t really want to fly to Heathrow.    

This year I decided to take the bull by the horns and drive to the meeting. It isn’t exactly a short drive for me, over 360 miles and a journey time of around 6½ hours.

My plan was to set off at around 04:30 Friday morning to arrive in time for Friday’s racing then drive home straight after racing on Saturday.

Early last week, in a rare moment of sensibility, I realised how unwise it would be to set off on a 360 odd mile drive at stupid o’clock in the morning, especially when I am not a morning person. So I set of on Thursday evening, stopping over in the Lake District on Thursday night, a much more sensible option.

Anyway Friday was a glorious day weather wise and I enjoyed the racing, some cracking finishes and a reasonable crowd but still enough space to move around in comfort.

Auroras EncoreNational day itself was being massively hyped by the racecourse, not least because of the appearance of Auroras Encore, attempting to become the first horse since Red Rum in 1974 to win the Aintree and Scottish National’s in the same season.

Of course many were sucked into the hype when, in reality, the horse did not have a snowballs chance in hell of winning the race. Not only had he been hiked in the weights to carry a welter burden, this year’s Scottish National was only two weeks after Aintree, whereas Red Rum had three weeks to recover.

I hate predicting in advance that a horse will not finish a race but I did write beforehand that Auroras Encore would be pulled-up in the race and so it happened.

I have to say I didn’t particularly enjoy the racing on Saturday.

Although the course themselves will be delighted with the huge crowds it made life really difficult for those of us who wanted to get to the parade ring to see the runners before the races. You just couldn’t move around the place without risking knocking a beer out of someone’s hands.

Couple that with a very flaky wi-fi and a lack of security, which meant racegoers, many somewhat the worse for drink, were able to spill into the press viewing area making reading the racing more difficult, it has to go down as being my least enjoyable days racing of the year.

In the end I called it quits after race six, much as I really hate leaving a racecourse early.

So began the journey home.

It didn’t start well as six miles outside Ayr I came to a standstill for 15 mins as there had been a crash. Five miles later I was sent on a diversion as the A70 was closed due to road works.

It then improved as the A70 took me through some delightful rolling hills, populate with sheep and their bleating lambs.

Tebay servicesA quick stop at Gretna Services and I was soon crossing the border and just under three hours after setting of I was pulling into the best motorway services in the country – Tebay.

If you have never visited Tebay they are the complete opposite to all the others. Privately owned the food in the restaurant is generally edible and flavoursome. The down side is it can be a very expensive stop as they have an excellent farm shop with a great selection of food – my debit card winced when I reached the checkout!!!

The M6 through the Lakes has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of motorway in the country, even better when the traffic is light. Once south of Lancaster though the scenery is more drab and the motorway busier and less enjoyable.

With one final “comfort” break at Keel services I was home, six and a half hours after leaving Ayr, tired but glad to be home and in my own bed.

The next day it hit me – I cannot recall ever feeling as tired, as ill, as I did on the Sunday.

It has bought home what I’ve been denying for some time now, that is I’m not as young as I used to be, I don’t have the energy I used to have and I’m certainly not up to doing a 360 mile drive flat out in one go.

I had planned to drive to Perth, via Newcasatle on the way up and Ripon on the way home, later this week – but I have to accept that would be silly. I like my racing but not enough to kill myself.

So no Scottish encore for me this week, I will do Perth later in the year but rather than drive I’ll fly to Edinburgh and hire a car instead.     

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