Saturday sees the 2018 renewal of one of Europe’s richest handicaps, the Ayr Gold Cup. The feature race sees a number of high-class handicap sprinters locking horns once more and marks the third of the three big sprint handicaps to be run in the UK this season following Royal Ascot’s Wokingham Stakes in June and last months Stewards Cup at Goodwood.
First held in 1804 the valuable sprint has seen a number of subsequent high class winners pass the post in front most notably in living memory subsequent Group 1 winners Lochsong (1992), Coastal Bluff (1996), Bahamian Pirate (2000) Continent (2001), Regal Parade (2008) and the winner two years ago Brando who joined the elite with a victory over in the Prix Maurice De Gheest at Deauville in August last year.
As is so often the case in big field sprint handicaps it is reasonable to expect the field to split into two groups, possibly three if there is any indecision and a number of horses decided to race up the centre of the track.
Any bias towards either the stands side or the far side is unlikely to become apparent until the close of play on Thursday while the two consolation races for this, the Silver Cup and the Bronze Cup which are due to be held earlier on Saturday’s card will make interesting viewing for punters with regards the best place to race.
Son Of Rest, 11/2 at Bet365, leapt to the head of the betting for this early closing contest with a second place finish in the Group 1 Flying Five Stakes over 5f on good-to-yielding going at The Curragh last weekend.
As a result of that close second to Havana Grey the four-year-old is due to go up 10lb in the weights and as such he is well in in this particular contest. While the son of Pivotal has been contesting Listed and Group races for much of his career he did record an impressive victory over 5f at The Curragh on soft ground in June last year when making his only handicap appearance so far.
Fozzy Stack’s charge has been kept busy since that victory and while he has run well over this 6f distance in the past it’s notable that his two victories and best efforts have all come over the minimum distance.
With the above in mind and given the likely price in a highly competitive handicap I believe it will pay to look elsewhere for the winner in 2018.
Major Jumbo (stall 9) has been running well in valuable sprint handicaps all year placing in competitive events over the minimum distance at Musselburgh (good-to-firm) and Ascot (good-to-firm), efforts that sandwiched a third place finish off a mark 2lb lower than he races off here in Royal Ascot’s 6f Wokingham which was also held on good-to-form going.
Runner-up when sent off favourite for a Listed event held on good ground at Chester last time out the selection has proven his liking for big field sprints this term and while he has yet to be tested on ground as soft as is forecast for Saturday he has won twice on good-to-soft ground including over 5f at Newmarket back in April and at 20/1 (William Hill) with what at present looks a fair draw in stall nine he looks likely to run well.
Ice Age (stall 2) has already tasted big race success in his career having taken out a valuable 6f handicap on soft ground at The Curragh in September last year.
While Eve Johnson Houghton’s charge hasn’t repeated that success in big handicaps this time around he has won twice scoring on good-to-firm ground over this trip in handicap contests at both Newbury in May and Windsor in early July.
The son of Frozen Power’s best recent effort came when finishing 4L fourth in the valuable Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon (6f, good) last month while he acquitted himself well when finishing third in his group, seventh overall in his bid for back-to-back victories in the aforementioned handicap at The Curragh last weekend.
Soft, or heavy ground should any further rain arrive would likely aid his chances and with the highly promising apprentice Scott McCullagh taking a valuable 7lb off his back he looks value at 25/1 with Bet365.
Of those at bigger prices and drawn high G Force (stall 23) was a Group 1 winner back in 2014 and while not up to that level these days he was an impressive handicap winner on soft-to-heavy going back in April and at 25/1 with Betway he could go well for trainer Adrian Keatley.