Few winners of the Scottish Grand National can have boasted quite such a good record at Ayr as the popular 2004 hero Grey Abbey. A thoroughly genuine and game bold-jumping front-runner, he ran ten times at the Scottish track during his career and won six of those races, as well as being disqualified from first on another occasion. Ayr was where he gained the very first win of his career, over hurdles, and it was also the venue for his first two successes in what was to become a hugely successful chasing career. On Scottish National day in 2001 Grey Abbey also won the Future Champion Novices’ Chase, and a year later he finished a close fourth on his first attempt in the Scottish National itself, won that year by Take Control.
Two years on, and in 2004 Grey Abbey lined up for the Scottish National again, this time burdened with top weight of 11-12 in a huge field of twenty-eight. No horse had carried more weight to victory in the race since Red Rum followed up the second of his Grand National wins at Aintree under 11-13 thirty years earlier.
Ridden by Graham Lee, who had won the Grand National on Amberleigh House a fortnight earlier, Grey Abbey was sent off at 12/1 in betting which was headed by a couple of novices, Native Emperor and Simply Supreme, on 7/1. Grey Abbey, incidentally, had Amberleigh House back in fifth when winning the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster on his final start before Ayr.
What looked like being a closely-fought contest going to the final fence in the Scottish National proved anything but in the end as Chasers & Hurdlers described:
‘None of the market leaders ever looked like threatening Grey Abbey who galloped his rivals into the ground, leading from the off in his usual style and jumping well throughout. With Simply Supreme a faller at the first and Native Emperor one of the first beaten, most of Grey Abbey’s remaining pursuers lost touch on the final circuit. Approaching the straight for the final time, only the previous year’s fourth Kerry Lads, another course regular, and Granit d’Estruval, winner of the Irish National just five days earlier, were within striking distance of Grey Abbey who was showing no signs of tiring.
‘The leader’s most anxious moment came when he had to be steered rather sharply round the dolled-off second-last fence, allowing Granit d’Estruval, by that point the only conceivable danger, to draw upsides. Jumping the last together, that danger was removed when Granit d’Estruval crashed out, leaving Grey Abbey to come home a distance clear of Kerry Lads.’
The runner-up, incidentally, was trained by this year’s Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell.
Grey Abbey was a ten-year-old when winning the Scottish Grand National but his best days were still ahead of him. The following season he developed into a live Gold Cup contender, showing top-class form with wins in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby and the Pillar Property Chase at Cheltenham before finishing fifth in the Gold Cup. He also won the Betfair Bowl at Aintree, contesting that race in preference to the Grand National in which he would have had to carry top weight.