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William Hill Ayr Gold Cup (Heritage Handicap) (Class Two)
One of the biggest betting handicaps of the season, this sprint is always a fascinating puzzle for punters to try and solve. Just a single winning favourite in the last twenty years, with half of the winners in that time going off at 16/1 or bigger, it is a race that rewards those who find the victor. Our preview for the 2017 renewal of the Ayr Gold Cup is below.
Charlie Hills has the early favourite for the contest in the shape of Shanghai Glory. That is not the position to be in the market as already mentioned but he is relatively unexposed still and is moving in the right direction. He was third in the Great St Wilfred at Ripon last time when he was the only one in the first four home who came from the stands side group. Three of the first four came from the opposite group to him the time before in the Stewards Cup as well so connections will be hoping for a little more luck in the draw which as always in these huge sprint handicaps is all important.
Six of the last thirty winners have been three-year-olds so it is no surprise that Ekhtiyaar is to the fore in the market, despite the fact that with a twenty-five runner maximum field, he would actually be top weight in the Bronze Cup if all held their ground. There will be plenty who won’t make the final line-up so there is every chance that he will make the starting field for the ‘big one.’ He has won three of his six career starts, runner-up twice as well. The only time he has failed to make the first pair was at York in June when a hampered in running fifth. He was sent off favourite on that occasion, recouping in style when swooping late to win at the July meeting at Newmarket. A big field and strong pace clearly suit and given that to win one of these marquee handicaps you often need a Group horse in the making, he fits that bill to perfection.
Winner of the Great St Wilfred was Mattmu, a bounce back to form for a horse who was a Group 2 winner in his younger days. From his lowest mark for almost three years he enjoyed bowling along at the head of affairs, finding plenty for pressure when challenged late on. If Tim Easterby can get him back to something like his best then a five pound lift in the handicap may not be enough to stop him going close once more, especially with the ground on the west coast of Scotland in the autumn generally having a little cut in it.
Sainted represents the fairer sex, the winner of four of her six races, she justified prohibitive odds of 4/7 to land a Haydock handicap in mid August. She is open to plenty more improvement given her profile, especially if she gets the cut in the ground that she needs to be seen at her very best. That eight runner handicap and this one are chalk and cheese, but the way she travelled into that contest suggests that she will be better still with a bigger field and stronger pace to tow her into the contest a little longer. She looks well up to getting black type this season and is an interesting addition to the field.
Four renewals of this race in the last decade have gone back to Hambleton Lodge and trainer Kevin Ryan, a remarkable record in such a wide open contest. Tommy Taylor may be the best of his entry this year, just run down close home at the July meeting by Ekhtiyaar. He has excuses for a pair of defeats since, no luck in running the first time and a small field splitting in two last time left him with no cover in the wrong group. In the same colours as the 2016 winner Brando, he should have things more to his liking here and can put up a bold show in a bid to double up for connections.
There are few horses out there who deserve to get their head in front in a race like this more than Steady Pace. Runner up in the Wokingham, he was third in the Bunbury Cup when tried over seven furlongs before another brave display when going under by a short head in a Listed contest last time out. He has finished in the first four in sixteen of his nineteen career races, a remarkable effort given the fiercely competitive level of handicaps such as this. He is sure to be right on the premises once more if this is the direction in which Godolphin decide to send him, the slight doubt being that he does need fast ground to be seen at his best.
Global Applause has been seen just the once this season, when third behind Gifted Master at Doncaster. He is fully entitled to come on for that run, especially given that it isn’t easy to make a return on the year in August. He mixed it with the likes of Mehmas, Blue Point and Harry Angel last season as a juvenile, just a little way short of a genuine Group class horse. He certainly suggested that he has trained on and with the cobwebs now blown away, he should be ready to show up more prominently. He is yet to experience a race like this, but the way he has stayed on over six furlongs in smaller fields gives the impression he will be better for a bigger field and stronger pace.