Cup clues lead to Wildwood

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When Parliament is unanimous about an issue, someone once said, it is invariably wrong, and it is a dictum which might prove to apply equally well to this afternoon's Ayr Gold Cup. Among the training fraternity, there seemed little doubt yesterday that a high draw is essential in order to stand any chance of success in Europe's richest sprint handicap. Punters, however, would be wise to treat this prediction with caution.

In most of the big sprint handicaps, such as the Wokingham and the Stewards' Cup, a "good" draw is simply one near the early pace, and thus impossible to predict from year to year. At Ayr, however, there is a perception that a stall near that stands' rail will always be preferable to one on the far side, and indeed, in three of the last four years, the winners have been drawn 27, 29 and 28. Delve a little further into the past, though, and you will find that the last 10 winners include runners from stalls four, six (twice) and eight (twice).

This is not to say that Coastal Bluff, the hot favourite this afternoon and drawn 28, will be in any way disadvantaged, but nor he is likely to enjoy any positive benefits either. The crucial point in all this is that Coastal Bluff's morning odds of around 5-1 reflect the belief that he has an ideal position, and thus represent poor value for this reason alone. For all the ease of his win in the Stewards' Cup he now has a handicap mark to match, almost a stone higher than it was at Goodwood, and today's race is perhaps more competitive still.

Deciding to overlook the favourite is easy. So too is finding a good alternative - there are at least a dozen, not least because there should be pace on both sides of the track, thanks to Bollin Joanne (drawn five), Selhurstpark Flyer (18) and Tiler (17). The vast majority of today's runners are fairly weighted and at the peak of their form. What few can claim to possess, though, is significant scope for improvement, and here perhaps there is a window of opportunity for punters.

Double Splendour, Double Bounce, Wildwood Flower and, admittedly, Coastal Bluff are four runners who appear to have better still to come, but one further statistic reduces the list to one name.

Fillies and mares often make rapid progress in the autumn, and have accounted for four of the last five runnings of today's race. Given that today's quota of six females in a 29-strong field is probably typical, this cannot be a mere statistical blip, a fact which makes WILDWOOD FLOWER (nap 4.15) a strong selection.

Richard Hannon's three-year-old has improved throughout the season, running her best race so far at Goodwood last time out. Backed down to 10-1 earlier this week, she has drifted to 18-1 (widely available) after drawing stall two, but as we have seen, this is no reason to discount her. She has an outstanding chance.

Do not be tempted, though, to double up with anything in the Silver Cup, a lower-grade race which is therefore even harder to assess. Look instead to another progressive sort, Indian Rocket (next best 3.40) in the Mill Reef Stakes, the feature race at Newbury.

The richest race of the day by far is the National Stakes at the Curragh, Europe's most valuable juvenile event of the entire season. Sahm and Fantastic Fellow, both supplemented this week, lead a four-strong British challenge. The Irish St Leger too has drawn several raiders to take on last week's Doncaster St Leger flop Gordi, including Posidonas, whose trainer, Paul Cole, saddled last year's winner, Strategic Choice.