With the possible exception of the Scottish Grand National, the most famous horse race held in Scotland is the Ayr Gold Cup, a race that was established way back in 1804.
In those early days the race was restricted to Scottish bred and trained horses only and was contested over two heats of two miles, until eventually it was changed into a straight race over the same distance. In 1855 the organisers decided to convert the race into a handicap which allowed for a greater number of entries, but with flat racing generally being geared to shorter distances the entire make up of the race was changed. In 1908 the race became a six furlong handicap sprint for the first time and has remained that way ever since.
These days of course it has become the richest sprint handicap race in Europe and has become the feature race of Ayr’s three day racing festival, held in September each year. Indeed its popularity is so profound that a second race was created, the Ayr Silver Cup, some years ago. In essence the top 27 entries in the weights will get the ‘nod’ to run in the Gold Cup, while the next 27 will run in the Silver Cup, the day before. However, even two races did not cater for the demand and in 2009 a third race, the Ayr Bronze Cup was inaugurated which is also run the day before the Gold Cup.
It is the common perception of most punters that the draw for the Gold Cup is one of the best indicators of what horse will win the race. The usual trend is to note the winning stall of the Silver and Bronze Cups and back accordingly in the Gold Cup. However, put to the test, this trend rarely materialises and the best advice would be to ignore it.
The draw remains an exciting spectacle however and is conducted two days before the race and follows a simple but potentially onerous routine. Each runner is drawn from the hat, the trainer or his representative of that runner must then select a stall for his entry within a given 60 second time frame, while at the same time crossing his fingers and hoping that he/she has got the right stall. This method is also adopted for both the Silver and Bronze Cups.
In recent years the trainer to follow in the Ayr Gold Cup simply has to be ‘spring king’, Dandy Nicholls, who has trained six winners of the race in the last ten years, including Redford 12 months ago, who was ridden by Frankie Dettori and who won with odds of 14/1 from stall 15. Dettori in fact also rode the winner, Jimmy Styles for trainer, Clive Cox in 2009, he was also a 14/1 shot and like Redford was drawn in the middle stalls.
As far as favourite backers are concerned they will want to leave this race well alone as there has only been one favourite to have triumphed since 1986. Indeed the average price of the winner of the Ayr Gold Cup is usually around the 16/1 mark, although Nicholls has saddled two recently with odds of 33/1.
The current favourite for the 2011 renewal is the James Fanshawe trained, Mac’s Power, who is closely followed in the market by the Great St Wilfrid Stakes winner, Pepper Lane from the yard of David O’Meara. Despite the recent withdrawal of Hoof It from the field of runners, the race looks likely to be an extremely close call but Mac’s Power looks very well treated on his efforts in similar big field handicaps this years and can land the spoils at 12/1 currently available.