It was most disappointing that last week’s selection in the St Leger, Order Of St George, was re routed to the Irish equivalent because of concerns with the going at Doncaster. It seems to this observer that good ground was highly likely at the Yorkshire track, and indeed the Doncaster race was run on ground very similar to the one that prevailed at the Curragh where the O’Brien horse won in a hack canter.
There can be little doubt that he would have won at Doncaster and yet again, scant consideration was afforded to ante post punters. However our next best, Bondi Beach,(after a prolonged inquiry) did collect, so upwards and onwards. Saturday’s Ayr Gold Cup, with twenty five runners theoretically handicapped to cross the finishing line together, looks a much trickier puzzle to solve. Happily there are a few strong trends which may help in finding a solution. All of the last ten winners were rated at least 97, and with only two exceptions, carried at least 9st. Only two managed a burden of more than 9st4lbs. Another very relevant stat is the fact that only two of the last ten winners had managed to cross the line in front in more than one race that season, probably highlighting connections desire to minimise the amount of weight carried. It is one of the toughest sprint handicaps of the year, run over a demanding course, with the weather often playing a hand, so stamina is most important. A proven ability over the trip is essential, and the stamina to stay further is a definite asset.
Having won all of his four starts, the Richard Fahey trained 3yo Dutch Art gelding, and current favourite, Don’t Touch is on a real roll. Tackling a Class2 handicap for the first time, he showed maturity beyond his years, when taking the Great St Wilfred at Ripon last time out. Backed in to 4/1 favourite in an admittedly depleted thirteen runner field, he ran on strongly when the penny dropped inside the final furlong, to win by a head off a mark of 96. He is sure to have learnt a lot at Ripon, and although 3yo’s have a poor recent record (thirteen years since one won) he looks well treated off a mark of 101 giving him a nice racing weight of 9st1lb and is shortlisted.
Kevin Ryan, who has won the race three times, (twice in the last four years) has an interesting contender with his 4yo gelding, Lexington Abbey. He went down by a short head at Nottingham eight weeks ago off a mark of 95 and was put up 2lbs, almost guaranteeing him a place in Saturday’s field. Given ground no worse than good-soft, he is worth a second look at a big price particularly as Irish ace Pat Smullen has been booked.
The Andrew Balding trained 7yo Highland Colori won this two years ago off a mark of 104 and gets into this years renewal off a mark 1lb lower. Having raced prominently he faded to finish eighth last time, in his first run for twelve weeks, but previously had shown the engine was still there when beaten less than a length in a Class2 7f Newmarket handicap. He seems to be suited by plenty of give these days, and there is little doubt that his shrewd trainer will have him primed for a repeat of his 2013 performance.
David O’Meara’s 4yo Highland Acclaim got going too late in last weeks 5 1/2f Portland handicap at Doncaster, but came home in grand style finishing 5th off a mark of 98. Bound to be well suited by the extra 1/2f at the weekend, and again racing off 98 O’Meara must have strong prospects of repeating last years success with Louis The Pious.
Marco Botti’s 4yo Golden Steps showed that he was on an upward curve when taking a Class2 handicap at Goodwood last time off a mark of 96. Dettori, who has ridden the winner twice in the past six years has been booked, so although up 7lbs since Goodwood must be considered.
Peter Chappell-Hyam’s 5yo Buckstay has been campaigned at 7f and further but it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented for an animal with such credentials to win. Indeed three of the last ten winners had won over further than six furlongs and the above mentioned Highland Colori boasted success over a mile. Buckstay won his last race, a 7f Class2 handicap at headquarters off a mark of 97 and races at the weekend off a 4lb higher mark. He probably handles most conditions, so it’s unlikely his uber shrewd trainer is travelling north without serious ambition.
E.W. : Highland Colori.