We were delighted to welcome Martin Hannan to our Edinburgh Branch Meeting lunch. Martin Hannan is an acclaimed sports journalist for the Scotland on Sunday and author. 

We know the history that we are taught at school, and while many of us can refer to an outline of Scottish history, we are much more certain of our facts when it comes to that of England. Unfortunately, Edward I of England, John Knox and Cromwell destroyed our records, so that we have only a shaky grasp on our history before the Middle Ages.
While now a historical writer, Martin comes from a long line of bookies, and when deciding to go into journalism should have known better, for his childhood memory of races to which he was taken by his grandfather at Lanark was of the bookies' big cars while the rest of the race-goers had to head for the bus. He was however able to reflect his heritage by serving as the racing correspondent of Scotland on Sunday and The Scotsman.
The English thoroughbred has given us racehorses all over the world, and while Scotland has its ponies and Clydesdales they were not exactly built for speed. The Romans brought us their Sarmacian breed which was the ancestor of the thoroughbred, and the sport was taken up by the Ancient Britons of Strathclyde, making it over the last 900 years the oldest continuously-followed sport.
The Lanark Silver Bell is the oldest sporting trophy in the world, having been continuously competed for (apart from a gap after 1977) since it was presented by William the Lion in 1160 - the present one in the museum at Hamilton dates from 1617. The title Sport of Kings dates from when James IV paid a jockey for riding his horse at Leith in 1504, and details of a meet at Haddington in 1552 are in the East Lothian archives, but racing disappeared with the Reformation along with so much else before reappearing at Peebles and Dumfries - it was James VI & I who said at Newmarket Heath that this would be a great place for horseracing, and Charles II revived it there, perhaps because his mistress Nell Gwynne had a house nearby.
Horseracing is certainly the sport of landowners, who developed and owned several of Scotland's nine racecourses. Several are no longer with us: Aberdeen Links next to Seaton Park closed in 1928, its final seven-furlong event being won by a horse called Lolita, and an attempt at revival in 1956 was rejected by the Corporation. Lanark where the majority of events were flat races, went in 1977 because the Horserace Betting Levy Board withdrew support, and is now used as rugby pitches. Founded by the Earl of Eglinton in 1636 and scene of the first steeplechase in 1839, Bogside used for jumps and flats went in 1965 when the Board transferred its funding to Ayr, the Scottish Grand National moving there.
An entirely Lowland sport, horseracing had been well-placed to cater for the leisure needs of the newly industrialised working class. Leith had moved in 1816 to Musselburgh. Hamilton held its first evening meeting in 1947. The Scottish tradition of hunting evolved into point-to-point racing, while Riding the Marches gave us flapping.
The legend of Rock of Gibraltar, a horse whose biography was written by Martin, was enhanced when the story went about that his owner was Sir Alex Ferguson. Another celebrity owner was the late Duke of Roxburgh. However only once has a horse trained in Scotland won a classic: this was Rock Avon, whose winning of the Two Thousand Guineas in 1961 went unwitnessed by trainer George Boyd who had missed his plane. Jim Goldie of Uplawmoor went on to triumph at Ascot, but there have been only two winners of the Grand National bred in Scotland: in 1979 Lobstick and in 2017 One for Arthur ridden by Lucinda Russell on which Martin won a holiday.
Ken Oliver trained five winners of the Scottish Grand National and four that came second - "win or lose, we'll have the booze" was his cry. Henry Cecil often seen as the epitome of English jockeys was actually born at Aberdeen in 1943 to a branch of the Burnett of Leys family, whose banner he flew above his stables. Scotland yielded many stable staff, perhaps because many of its men were short of stature but keen to avoid going down the mines. Martin Johnston from Aberfoyle began as a vet, but is the greatest current trainer, and on moving from Lincoln to Middleham in Yorkshire bought the yard across the road so as to expand his stables - unfortunately his prowess is underrated because the champion trainer is the one who has achieved the greatest winnings, not won the most races.
While National Hunt racing is exciting, it can be distressing when a horse is killed. Red Rum is the only mount to have won both the Grand National and the Scottish Grand National, Peter Niven the Scottish first jockey to ride over a thousand winners.
Racing is a rollercoaster, and things in Scotland are on the up with the establishment of a Scottish Horseracing Academy to bring on the next generation of staff. It is our third most popular spectator sport after football and rugby, but being a bookie is more remunerative than an owner, which has been likened to standing in a cold shower ripping up £50 notes. Greatest book on Scottish racing is "The Scots and the Turf" by Alan Neil Walker, followed by the late Tom McConnell's "The Tartan Turf".
Its association with foxhunting has damaged horseracing, point to point being obviously derived from chasing the fox, and there has also been the allegation of cruelty in use of the whip, which Willie Carson says he uses just to keep the horse heading in a straight line. Martin's greatest success was in exposing the management at Ayr, which led to new leadership being brought in. The Irish Government puts much more public support into the industry than does ours, and an Arab owner the Ruler of Dubai has shown scholarship in his studies of the ancestry of Arabian horses.