In an age when little short of a murder conviction will shift a Cabinet Minister, a sense of honour still survives on the west coast of Scotland. Ivan Straker, who did so much to secure the future of the Grand National, bears no direct responsibility for the turmoil currently afflicting the finances of Ayr racecourse. None the less, he felt obliged on Wednesday to resign his chairmanship of the track, and Scotland's foremost course now faces a difficult future without a very able administrator.
Strathclyde police and two firms of accountants are investigating a pounds 100,000 hole in the books of the course, which is run by the Western Meeting Club, representing the course's annual members. Straker's resignation was on the basis that "the buck stops at the top", and not ill-health (he has a history of heart trouble). Bill Carey, the Club's accountant, was suspended in July and later dismissed.
When Straker arrived at Ayr five years ago, the course was on the brink of bankruptcy. Under his chairmanship, its position as a major track was secured and re-inforced, as Mark Kershaw, its general manager, acknowledged yesterday. "We owe Ivan one hell of a lot," he said. "He took on a racecourse that was nearly out of business and he has done a fantastic job."
The furore could not have come at a worse time for Ayr, which today stages the middle day of its feature Western meeting. Punters can limber up for tomorrow's Ayr Gold Cup with a succession of tricky handicaps, although Lucky Rabbit (next best 3.05), who has hardly been living up to his name, stands out in the nursery. My Branch (3.35), an impressive winner at Doncaster, should be up to Listed company, although rain would dampen confidence.
Juveniles are also the centre of attention at Newbury, where both the fillies' and colts' conditions events generally involve useful performers in the making. The betting bank is better directed towards EASY OPTION (nap 2.40) in the sprint. She is one of the Godolphin operation's lesser lights, having raced just once this year, but that performance in a Listed race gives her every chance in today's poorer company.
Godolphin experienced a rare reverse yesterday, when it was announced that Halling, the brilliant winner of the International Stakes at York, will miss the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot a week tomorrow due to a minor training setback. The problem is not expected to disrupt his preparation for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The process of finding a new crop of juveniles to winter in Dubai has begun, and several leading trainers may at present be reluctant to answer the phone. Henry Cecil has been informed that Allied Forces, one of his best juveniles, will be moving to the Middle East. Others will probably follow, and right now the master of Warren Place is not a happy Henry.
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