The Ayr Gold Cup, Scotland’s richest sprint handicap, is a race utterly steeped in history. Tomorrow’s six furlong dash is a far cry from the race which first took place back in 1804 at the old Ayr track of Belleisle, which is located around two miles from the current venue. Back then, the race was strictly limited to horses bred and trained north of the border and was a two mile contest. These days, the country’s finest handicappers target this contest and some true sprinting greats have been crowned down the decades.

One of the big subplots in this part of the world is, of course, the lack of a Scottish trained winner. In fact you have to go all the way back to 1975 and Roman Warrior, trained by Nigel Angus, for the last tartan hero. That victory bagged him a place in local folklore – and even a hospitality suite at Ayr racecourse named after him to this day. How the racecourse and Scottish punters alike dearly crave another homegrown winner.

I attended Thursday morning’s draw for the big race and it was clear where trainers and connections felt the draw bias was going to be up the straight course. Alan Swinbank was lucky enough to get first draw for his runner, FINAL VENTURE, and went straight for stall 20. History tells us that stalls 16-20 tend to produce their fair share of winners down the years, but as the first sprint down the straight course later on Thursday proved, low draws are no barrier to success. The first four home in the 6f sprint all came from the lowest seven stalls – and the winner came from gate one. It merely reaffirms that Ayr is a very fair track and winners can come from all across the track and are likely to do so again this year.

On to this year’s field and we’ll take a look at some of the major players in some detail:

GROWL (6/1) has been all the ante-post rage and the subject of a sustained gamble since a big run in the Steward’s Cup last time out. He was a fast finishing fourth that day and I suppose you could easily subscribe to the theory that a repeat of that run would be good enough here. But his price has started to contract beyond all recognition for me and he’s going to be sent off far too short for a race as competitive as this. For one thing, I have my doubts about him handling the cut in the ground. At Ayr on Thursday, the ground was riding very tacky – and it could blunt speedsters like Growl who simply do not have the form to stack up when there’s give underfoot. Going off a career high mark of 101, he will need a huge performance and I’d want a bigger price to tempt me in.

There is much to like about the chances of MAGNUS MAXIMUS (10/1). He’s just a rock solid handicapper for a start and has been holding his form at a good level for more than a year now. You’re pretty much guaranteed that he runs his race here and, on the face of it, he looks to have a lovely draw in stall 21 having been one of the first out of the hat. If he can spring out and bag the stand’s rail it may be very difficult to peg him back on that nearside group. A lot can develop during the course of this kind of race, but what we’d have in our favour backing him is he knows how to get the job done in big field handicaps. And in Harry Bentley he has a very able pilot for the job.

NAMEITWHATYOULIKE (14/1) arrives here in peak form having accounted for Intisaab and Danzeno on his last two starts. That’s a good line of form, make no mistake. Going up 5lbs would be a concern, though, as he hasn’t been winning his races by a whole lot and this race will demand a fair step forward. He could find the improvement needed but I’d be inclined to look elsewhere.

ORION’S BOW (14/1) has rocketed from 69 to 106 this year following five wins on the bounce and you just wonder where his improvement is going to end. He was finally beaten at Ripon last time out – and fairly comfortably – and that performance was enough to put me off him here. I think the handicapper has finally got the measure of him and little wonder after the incredible exploits this season. He owes connections nothing.

AEOLUS (20/1) looks a massive price for the Ed Walker team. He’s close to being the best horse in the race on ratings at 107, he has a really nice draw in stall 19 – and most importantly he hasn’t run down at this level since he was a juvenile. Am I missing something here about why he’s such a huge price? This is a horse who ran with huge credit in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot and, although losing three times in races won by the hugely talented Profitable, he was never beaten far. And last time out in a Group 3, he again ran with huge credit in losing out by 3 lengths to The Tin Man. These are far calmer waters and if he can chart a smooth course through the traffic, he simply has to be bang there. Oh and did I mention they’re claiming 5lbs off his back with Hector Crouch? I can’t believe the price, it looks so wrong to me. The horse will love the ground and I simply love the bet.

KIMBERELLA (16/1) has been a rock solid option in handicaps this season and has soared 18lbs in the ratings since the start of the year. Impressive stuff. I thought he looked a bit tapped for toe in the St Wilfrid at Ripon last time and he needs to get back on track here in a serious way if he’s to take a race like this.

One at a price I must mention is POYLE VINNIE (25/1) – a gallant second in this race last year off 4lbs higher and he’s got a good draw here to attack again. He certainly has something to find on official figures but he’s proved he can come here a put in an almighty effort and there will be few finishing off the race better than he. Wasn’t disgraced behind The Tin Man in a Listed race at Windsor earlier in the year – that kind of form would put him in the fold here.

HOW WE BET: This puzzle is notoriously hard to solve but I’m very clear about the route I’m taking and that’s AEOLUS. Firstly, his price is far too big – this is a consistent Group performer stepping back into handicap company for the first time in three years. Just consider that for a moment. On all known form he should be taking this lot to the cleaners. To see quotes of 20/1 about a horse like this, who will also relish the conditions AND has what would appear to be the best of the draw…well it looks madness to me. 

SELECTION: AEOLUS

Stake: 1pt each way @ 20/1 (widely available)

The Tower

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