Casting my eye down the list of potential previews for the Flat season some months ago, I don't mind telling you the Ayr Gold Cup was the one which brought on by far the largest gulp. With 27 runners and two possible consolation races, it would take some detailed analysis to determine the final field for Saturday's six-furlong contest, let alone the most likely winner. There are however some decent betting opportunities and without further ado we'll begin a run-down of the principal contenders.
Head of the current ante-post market after his success in Ireland on Sunday is Watchable, yet another rapidly progressive sprinter who is continuing a watershed season for David O'Meara and looks to have an outstanding chance on form. If he does line up than he obviously rates as a leading contender and looks capable of graduating out of handicap company in time, but at present that is a very big 'if'. Breaks of anywhere between four and eight weeks between runs this season suggest we're unlikely to see him turned out quickly after such an authoritative display last weekend, and with such doubts surrounding him he makes no appeal from an ante-post perspective.
Next in the betting comes Alben Star, who has proved himself a highly consistent performer so far in 2014. A string of admirable efforts have seen him finish fourth in the Wokingham and third in the Stewards' Cup before running Tropics close in a listed event at Newmarket last time. The form of the Goodwood race in particular will become something of a recurring theme as this year's renewal looked a strong one and Alben Star's performance in it entitles him to be on the premises again here. The concern is whether he possesses the required scope to win such a competitive handicap off a BHA mark of 109. Although promising claimer Jack Garritty takes off 5 lb and he looks as solid an each-way proposition as you'll find in a race of this nature, the suspicion is that something will improve past him.
The horse who looks the best price to progress in the aforementioned manner is Ruwaiyan, who finished fourth in the Stewards' Cup, putting up what was a hugely eye-catching performance. He travelled fluently for much of the race but found himself with plenty to do two furlongs out, and the run he put in to eventually finish in the money was an impressive one. He's undergone something of a reinvention as a sprinter having been originally campaigned between a mile and 10 furlongs (somewhat understandably given he's by Cape Cross out of a Sadler's Wells mare) but he's got sufficient pace to make an impact in this division.
A strongly-run six furlongs in a big-field looks to play to Ruwaiyan's strengths and with just the four starts over Saturday's trip to his name he remains capable of improving further. His two subsequent runs are excusable in that he saw too much daylight at Newmarket (a problem he won't encounter on Saturday) which put paid to his chances there and was then subject to a perplexing decision from connections to run him in a listed event in Sweden at the weekend. That looks an anomaly from every angle and providing he is none the worse for his exertions at around the 16/1 mark he looks an outstanding each-way proposition.
There are plenty of others who merit consideration as you'd expect for such a valuable contest, with Ninjago top of the list after a fine second in - you've guessed it - the Stewards' Cup. He's a handicapper who could potentially become expensive to follow, as he went into many a notebook after finishing fifth in 2013 Stewards' Cup as a three-year-old. His form was indifferent until the 2014 renewal when he improved three places to come a fast-finishing second, beaten only by Intrinsic. With the likes of Muthmir in behind there is legitimate reason to suggest he could take high rank amongst the sprinters in the future, the only slight worry being that despite promising a great deal in his runs he hasn't actually delivered a win since May 2013. For that reason Ninjago is swerved, if a little tentatively.
Another who is of significant interest is Telmeyd, who thanks to the exploits of stablemate Muthmir has become something of the forgotten sprinting prospect for the William Haggas operation. The big question is whether he will squeeze in the big one off 97, but even if he lines up in the Silver Cup instead he's worth keeping on side. He was last seen running in the Sherghar Cup and given the amount of ground he forfeited by rearing up when the stalls opened, to finish fourth by less than three lengths was a fine effort. He's had just the four starts to his name so it's fairly obvious he's capable of significant improvement and it would be no surprise to see him end the season rated a good deal higher by the assessor than he is currently.
I had my reservations about linking this preview to certain other important events taking place north of the border this week, so I will leave it at saying that both the vote on independence and the Ayr Gold Cup will be decided by extremely fine margins. The outcome of the former should be left to more astute political commentators than myself, but at least in James Tate's Ruwaiyan we have a solid prospect around which to form our opinion on the latter.
Back Ruwaiyan in the Ayr Gold Cup