FOR the majority of an 18,000-strong crowd at Ayr, it was all about the glitz and the glamour, the winning and the losing. Behind the ultimate hero, there was a tale of life and death.

There wasn’t much to make Joe Farrell stand out from the field ahead of the Scottish Grand National. Four miles, 27 fences and a photo-finish later, the 33/1 outsider was the main attraction, and the source of an intriguing back story.

It was a hard-fought, battling victory. In more ways than one, the manner of the success was perfectly fitting.

“As I understand it, John Ferguson, who we bought it from, when he was in the army in Northern Ireland a bullet hit one of his regiment,” said Mark Sherwood, the owner of the winner. “He saved his life, it would certainly have hit him. When John Ferguson had lots of horses when he was training, he said he waited for a really nice horse before naming him after Joe Farrell. I think it was his Sergeant Major.”

There was a sense of history in the air as Gordon Elliott looked to add the Scottish National crown to his Irish and Grand National successes with Fagan, while Paul Nicholl’s Vicente was seeking a third successive win in the race.

The record books didn’t need to be rewritten. There were tales to tell, though, as trainer Rebecca Curtis won on her first trip to Scotland and jockey Adam Wedge followed up his Champion Hurdle success on board Court Minstrel five years ago.

“When I bought the horse,” Sherwood said. “John said ‘he is a really nice horse and I wouldn’t have named him after the man that saved my life unless I thought he was a nice horse’. He said to me in the drinks bar, ‘I tell you what Mark, you will have a lot of fun with him’. We have.”

He wasn’t the only one that enjoyed himself. The conditions, both overhead and underfoot, were perfect for all involved as the Scottish National took centre stage in terms of Saturday’s racing.

This is the richest day of jumps action north of the border, with the showpiece event the fourth-largest in terms of betting turnover. There was also the QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle, a race that has established itself as one of the top hurdles on the calendar in recent years as the standard of the entries, and the prize money, have steadily increased.

The scenes on the track and off it would have been heartening for those involved with the racecourse following the abandonment of the Gold Cup meeting in September. It was an historic week, but for all the wrong reasons as each of the three days of action were cancelled due to a waterlogged track.

It wasn’t just the racecourse that would have felt the pain as local companies – everything from pubs to taxi firms – counted the cost of the inclement weather. There were no such fears or dangers this time, however. Ayr was well and truly open for business and the stage was set for new chapters to be written, new stars to emerge.

With the fusion of pop rock and Scottish music in the air thanks to the Drums N’ Roses, punters started streaming through the gates long before noon and the concourse in front of the main stand was soon a sea of suits and shiny shoes, party dresses and carefully balanced hats. The champagne was popped and the pints were poured as the course was bathed in sunshine and Craig Ward, a finalist in The Voice, entertained the ever increasing throng with three tunes, the last of which was 500 Miles.

Some would have travelled even further than that to make it to Ayrshire but not all of the journeys would be worth it. The one Sherwood made certainly was. This was a moment he had dreamt of for some time.

“It is a childhood dream really,” Sherwood said. “My grandfather was really interested in horses and he used to give me a little bit of pocket money every week. In 1969, it was the Grand National and he said ‘what are you going to put it on?’ I said ‘well, it’s my mum and dad’s wedding anniversary so let’s put it on Highland Wedding’. And it won.

“I remember him coming back with what, as an eight-year-old, was a lot of money and I said ‘grandad, one day I would like to have the winner of the Scottish National or the English National. Arthur, my grandfather, was obviously looking down on me today.”

Come the end of a gruelling race, Joe Farrell needed all the help he could get. As the well-backed Vintage Clouds faded after a front-running performance, Tom Bellamy on Ballyoptic took up the fight. It was too close to call. The wait was agonising, but it was worth it with just a nose separating the two runners after four miles of racing. Vintage Clouds claimed third with Doing Fine third while 7-1 favourite Fagan was never sighted for Elliott.

“It was a bit tense because I didn’t think I had won it until they called it through the tannoy,” jockey Adam Wedge said. “It was fantastic. Everyone was congratulating me but I wouldn’t acknowledge them, not through ignorance, but because I thought I had been beaten. Thank God we weren’t.

“When I saw Tom coming alongside me, I had my head down and I was just driving through the finish line and praying to God that we stayed in front.”