Abby hustling for the Cup

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The Independent Online

The Branston Abby bandwagon moves to Scotland this weekend in an attempt to further cash in on the mare's recent brilliant run of success. Despite being burdened with 9st 12lb in Saturday's Ayr Gold Cup she is a warm ante-post favourite for the valuable six-furlong sprint.

The five-year-old has thrived on a hectic schedule this season. When she won the Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster last Thursday it was her 18th race of the season, including numerous trips to the Continent. She has won three of her last five races, as well as finishing a superb runner-up to Cherokee Rose in the Group One Sprint Cup at Haydock.

Ladbrokes, the Ayr Gold Cup sponsors, pushed out Branston Abby's odds yesterday from 5-1 to 6-1 favourite But the firm of bookmakers denied this reflected any lack of confidence in her chances. ''It's simply that if you look at the field for the race it has a very competitive look to it,'' Paul Austin of Ladbrokes, said.

Mark Johnston, who trains the mare at Middleham, commented: "Branston Abby is absolutely fine.'' Michael Roberts, her regular pilot, will ride, Johnston confirmed.

The race will have a total of 29 runners. Mark Kershaw, general manager at Ayr, yesterday reported the going as good, but rain is forecast during much of the rest of this week.

In big fields on soft ground at Ayr, low numbers have usually been considered to have an advantage. But last year, Daring Destiny, an outsider, won from stall 29. Sir Mark Prescott's Espartero has been reintroduced into the betting by the sponsors as 8-1 second-favourite. "He is not an intended runner at the moment but I am leaving all options open," Prescott said.

AYR GOLD CUP (Ladbrokes): 6-1 Branston Abby, 8-1 Espartero, 10-1 Astrac, 12-1 Top Banana, 14-1 Benzoe, Royal Figurine, 16-1 Actual Fact, Alzianah, Patto, No Extras, Venture Capitalist, Bold Effort, Cool Jazz, 20-1 bar.