The Ayr Gold Cup (Saturday, 3.50pm) has traditionally been a graveyard for favourites. Only one has prevailed since 1980, David Barron’s Coastal Bluff (3/1) in 1996. This year Jim Goldie’s topweight Jack Dexter is the 8/1 favourite for reasons that are easy to understand.
He won his most recent start, the Group 3 Chipchase Stakes over six furlongs at Newcastle on 29 June. In his previous run he came fourth in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot when he did not get a clear run. Last season he won the Ayr Bronze Cup on heavy ground over six furlongs so he has proved himself over course and distance.
The statistics suggest that, at four years old, this son of Orientor is the ideal age to win the Ayr Gold Cup handicap. Looking at the list of past winners, only one horse has won when carrying top weight – the exceptional Coastal Bluff who subsequently won a Group 1. Goldie is bullish about his charge and is convinced that the more rain falls, the better his chances. He ought to put in a good performance but he has to be treated as an each-way chance.
Goldie also saddles the veteran Hawkeyethenoo (16/1). He comes into the race on the back of a creditable fourth place in the Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock on 7 September. He was four and a half lengths behind Tom Hogan’s Gordon Lord Byron.
Unfortunately this seven-year-old son of Hawk Wing looks too long in the tooth to win. Only one seven-year-old has triumphed since 1980. Hawkeyethenoo also appears to need ground no slower than good to soft to produce his best. He is difficult to fancy, even with the expert assistance of Kieren Fallon.
Whilst Goldie has never won this race Kevin Ryan has saddled three Ayr Gold Cup winners, including the past two.
This year he sends out four, including Captain Ramius (14/1) who won last year on heavy ground. His best effort this season was back in March when he was second, just half a length behind Jack Dexter in a listed race at Doncaster off level weights.
The recent form of this son of Kheleyf is poor but can be forgiven due to unsuitably quick ground. Nowadays it is only worth putting this seven-year-old in the horsebox if he is likely to come back covered in mud. That looks a certainty on Saturday. He could well run into a place.
In contrast Ryan’s Hamza (25/1) looks to be a waste of space on the lorry if the ground is any slower than good. For that reason this four-year-old son of Amadeus Wolf can easily be discounted here.
Similarly Bogard (25/1), a four-year-old son of Bahamian Bounty, appears to need quicker ground than he is likely to encounter on Saturday. His most recent win was on good to firm at York in August.
It is the same story for Ryan’s fourth runner, Lightning Cloud (20/1). In his most recent run in a six furlong listed race at York on 8 September, he came fourth by just over a length to James Fanshawe’s Hallelujah. That was on good ground. His most recent win was in handicap at Royal Ascot on good to firm. There is nothing in this five-year-old son of Sleeping Indian’s past form to suggest that he will perform on soft.
A more fancied runner is Richard Fahey’s Baccarat, the second favourite at 9/1. Fahey has been successful in this race once before, with Fonthill Road in 2006. Baccarat comes into the race on the back of a winning performance at Ripon in the Great St Wilfrid Stakes, a six furlong handicap in August with 20 runners. He started as the favourite and beat Michael Dods’ Spinatrix by a neck on good ground. His only other win this season was on his debut, over the same course and distance on similar ground.
As a son of Dutch Art, you would hope that this four-year-old would handle give in the ground but he has yet to encounter it on a racecourse. He has never lined up on anything softer than good. This is only his ninth start and he could be progressive. He has the assistance of Paul Hanagan, who rode Fonthill Road to victory seven years ago.
Denis Coakley’s Gabriel’s Lad (12/1) has also attracted support. This four-year-old son of Dark Angel ended last season with a win on soft ground in a six furlong handicap at Ascot in October. He started as the favourite and beat Ed Dunlop’s Khubala by three quarters of a length.
After a fruitless trip to the Curragh at the end of June, his recent form has been solid. He posted a win at Newmarket in a handicap in August, beating Richard Hannon’s Democretes by a neck. He came second by the same distance to Ed Vaughan’s Redvers at Ascot in his latest run on 7 September. Both races were over seven furlongs. He seems to handle a wide variety of surfaces and has to be one for the shortlist.
Another adaptable contender is Hugo Palmer’s Khubala (14/1). He has also posted wins on both soft and good to firm going. He was not disgraced in his most recent run in a Group 2 in Germany on 25 August. He came sixth by almost six lengths to Rune Haugen’s Giant Sandman in a field of 13 runners at Baden-Baden. He previously finished fourth in a Listed race at Chester, nearly four lengths behind David Barron’s Hitchens.
Blinkered as usual, this will be his ninth race of the season. It is asking a lot of any four-year-old to produce his best after such a busy season, especially following a jaunt to the continent.
Andrew Balding’s five-year-old Highland Colori (16/1) has been campaigned over seven furlongs since September last year, when he came second in the six furlong Ayr Silver Cup on heavy ground. He was just touched off by Michael Dods’ Mass Rally who raced on the stands side whilst he headed the group of 12 on the far side.
Most recently this son of Le Vie Dei Colori beat Mark Johnston’s ultra-consistent Es Que Love by one and a half lengths in a Conditions Stakes with just four runners at Warwick on 26 August. He needs soft ground to be competitive over this shorter distance and is certain to get it on Saturday.
Dods saddles Mass Rally (20/1) and Spinatrix (25/1) and both have decent each-way chances. The six-year-old Mass Rally is another son of Kheylef who has shown his best form with plenty of cut in the ground. He finished second by the shortest of margins to Jack Dexter in the Chipchase Stakes in June and won a six furlong handicap at York in May. The ground was good to soft on both occasions. He was unplaced in his two starts since but they were both on faster ground. Excluding his seasonal debut, he has been extremely consistent when getting his optimum conditions and looks decent value here.
The five-year-old Spinatrix came fourth by two lengths in the Ayr Silver Cup last year and has posted two wins over six furlongs at Ripon this season. This daughter of Diktat finished a close second to Baccarat in the Great St Wilfrid Stakes on her most recent start on 17 August and is available at double the price.
Since 1996, no horse has won this race at single figure odds, making it easy to ignore the two market leaders. This is always a tough race to call but Michael Dods’ pair both look to provide excellent value. With the ground likely to be testing, our pick has to be an each-way wager on MASS RALLY at 20/1 with Betfred, Stan James, Ladbrokes, William Hill.
Apart from William Hill, those bookmakers go 1/4 odds 1, 2, 3, 4 but it is worth noting the other two bookies that are going 1/4 odds the first FIVE places. They are Bet365 and BetVictor, who are both currently 18/1 about our preview’s betting tip.