Veteran jockey Sean Quinlan, who conceded his wild side almost derailed his career, crowned his best ever season with his biggest ever win as he drove 25-1 shot Takingrisks to a four-length win in the Coral Scottish National at Ayr.
Thirty-five-years old is a little late to be claiming a breakthrough success but Quinlan’s career has turned a corner and the rider from County Tipperary put it all down to the love of a good woman – his partner Lizzie Butterworth.
The low-point for Quinlan came when receiving a six-month suspended prison sentence in 2014 for his involvement in a violent incident in a pub at a time is career had hit the buffers. But he has moved north and turned his life around.
Jockey Sean Quinlan celebrates Scottish Grand National on Takingrisks on Saturday
After lifting the £122,442 first prize on the Nicky Richards-trained gelding at a sunny but wind-swept Ayr in front of a capacity 18,500 sell-out crowd, Quinlan said: ‘I could never dream of anything like this. I don’t get very emotional but to win a prestigious race like this will probably be the highlight of my career.
‘I was a journeyman jockey, things weren’t happening and it was crossing my mind to go back to Ireland. I met Harvey Smith at the races one day and he said, ”Come up to my place (in Yorkshire). If you put in the work I will give you rides”.
‘I have just branched out a little bit now ride for some fantastic trainers.. There are so many people I should thank but I have to mention including my agent Richard Hale and my missus Lizzie.
‘(My Colleague) Paddy Brennan keeps saying to me, ”Behind every good man is a good woman”. Lizzie grabbed hold of me. She has tamed me down quite a bit. I used to be a bit wild when I was younger. She grabbed hold of me. She is a good woman and probably made a man of me.’
Takingrisks won the Scottish Grand National by three lengths at Ayr at odds of 25-1
Quinlan and Takingrisks claimed glory but only after an error at the first fences which Quinlan thought had ended his chance almost before it had begun.
The jockey, who has now ridden 53 winners this season, added: ‘He winged the first and got banged in the air. I thought that’s his chances gone. It was only fear that was keeping me on. I was hanging out the back door and praying to god to keep me on.
‘But then he winged the second and he travelled superbly. The whole way round I was thinking I am going too easy and maybe we are going too slow.’
Harry Skelton-ridden runner-up Crosspark jumped to into the lead at the third-last fence but by the penultimate fence Quinlan had his mount back in front and he gradually forged clear.
Quinlan said: ‘I didn’t want to get there too soon but I also didn’t want a sprint. Harry outjumped me at the third last but he has battled back. He is very tough.’
For Richards, Takingrisks was providing victory in a race his late father Gordon won with Playlord in 1969 and Four Trix in 1990.
Third place went to Jonjo O’Neill’s Cloth Cap, who always raced prominently, with Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Blue Flight, a gelding carrying the colours of Dundee United co-owner Jimmy Fyffes, was fourth beaten just over four lengths.
The first Scottish-trained runner to finish was Lucinda Russell’s Big River, who made up a lot of ground from the back of the field on the final circuit to claim fifth.
Favourite Vintage Clouds faded after racing prominently into sixth while one of the gambles of the race, Irish hope Crosshue Boy, clipped heels, stumbled and fell after jumping the seventh.
The drying ground meant there were five non-runners including two leading hopes, Nicky Henderson-trained top weight Beware The Bear and Alan King-trained Dingo Dollar.
Skelton may have gone agonisingly close to winning the feature race but he and his trainer brother Dan could still head home with satisfaction.
No jumps trainer has trained 200 or more winners in a season since Martin Pipe achieved the feat in the 2001/2 season but Dan moved to within eight of the double century when first well-backed 5-2 favourite Azzuri galloped his rivals into the ground in the Scotty Brand Handicap Chase and then Molly The Dolly landed the £100,000 J & D Pierce Novices’ Champion Handicap Chase.
Both were ridden by Skelton’s jockey brother Harry and took the Warwickshire trainer to four winners at the two-day meeting for Skelton, who was successful with Born Survivor and Peppay Le Pugh on Friday.
The victory of Molly The Dolly was the fruition of a long-term plan by Skelton with a mare who had not run since December and the trainer is hatching an even longer term plan now.
Skelton said: ‘The owner (Dermot Hanafin) has sat still since December. I said this is the perfect race for her and it is worth 100 grand. It was a long time to wait and that was magic under a great ride from Harry.
‘Everything next year will be geared around trying to come back next year for the Scottish National.’
Skelton had big hopes for Nube Negra in the Scottish Champion Hurdle but he faded into sixth after looking a threat three hurdles out in a race where class told as top weight and 4-1 favourite Verdana Blue sauntered to a seven-length win from Dino Velvet.
Winning trainer Henderson pulled five of his runners on the card out because of the ground but the drying going was just what Verdana Blue, who caused a shock when beating stablemate Buveur D’Air in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, needed.
She gave Conor Brace, a 17-year-old just starting out on his career, his biggest win.