Continent bestrides realms of gold

Holland crosses the line first to redeem losses at Ayr as Grandera and Sakhee post Arc pointers

The blinks of an eye that mark the boundaries between victory and defeat in a sprint handicap were exemplified in the Ayr Gold Cup yesterday, when, as usual, the massive field split into two separate cavalry charges down the straight six furlongs and, no sooner had the admirable Brevity mastered Smokin Beau by half a length in the race on the far side, than Continent swooped on the near-side rail to snatch victory across the width of the course by a neck.

The blinks of an eye that mark the boundaries between victory and defeat in a sprint handicap were exemplified in the Ayr Gold Cup yesterday, when, as usual, the massive field split into two separate cavalry charges down the straight six furlongs and, no sooner had the admirable Brevity mastered Smokin Beau by half a length in the race on the far side, than Continent swooped on the near-side rail to snatch victory across the width of the course by a neck.

Brevity (22-1) was going for his ninth win of the season and Smokin Beau (20-1) was bidding to add Scotland's richest Flat race to his Portland Handicap 10 days previously. Either would have been a worthy winner but Continent, a well-backed 10-1 shot, was also claiming a just eward as he gave his trainer, David Nicholls, two in a row in a fiendishly difficult contest, following Bahamian Pirate's victory last year.

The four-year-old had suffered desperately unlucky runs on his two previous appearances, most recently in the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood. "I got the blame that day, for missing the break," said winning rider Darryll Holland, "but now I've made amends for that cock-up."

Continent finished clear of his nearest stands-side pursuer, Antonio Canova, who pipped Banjo Bay for fourth. The favourite Ghazal, backed from 12-1 to 13-2 on the course, came in a disappointing 23rd of the 29 runners.

On another plane, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is now only two weeks away and at Newbury Grandera, third in the French Derby and runner-up in the Eclipse Stakes and York International, but with no more than a maiden win to his credit before yesterday, remedied that omission by landing the odds in the Listed Arc Trial.

He was not wholly convincing in beating Mubtaker a length and a half, running through the final furlong with his ears pinned back and head tilted awkwardly as he lugged left under pressure, but provided the going is not too soft, he will be supplemented for the Longchamp showpiece.

Trainer James Fanshawe said: "It will cost £40,000, but today has paid for three-quarters of it and the better the race, the better he is."

The best Arc prep in Britain yesterday, though, was probably Sakhee's early-morning workout in Newmarket ­ probably being the operative word, for the gallops were shrouded in the first serious mists of the autumn and visibility was down to feet. But Frankie Dettori, the man in Sakhee's saddle, could see and feel enough and expressed himself delighted with the runaway York International winner's wellbeing, saying: "He worked fantastic, but he is a very good horse."

A decision about the Godolphin colourbearer's participation in Paris has yet to be made, but the four-year-old is the with-a-run favourite in most lists. He also holds a Champion Stakes entry and Dettori added: "He's a fresh horse and both races might not be out of the question."

Another Arc clue is likely to be delivered at Longchamp in the Prix du Prince d'Orange today. The 10-furlong Group Three contest is not a regular pointer, but in recent decades Ivanjica, Alleged and Saumarez took both races and last year the winner was Hightori, who ran fifth in the Arc and is one of this year's market leaders.

The exploits of Maille Pistol, who will start favourite today, have been one of this season's turf romances. He is owned by one of France's leading trotting trainers, Michel Roussel, who bought him on a whim as a long-term hurdling prospect for just £15,000 as a yearling. But Maille Pistol, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget in the shadow of the Pyrenees at Pau, France's largest provincial centre, belied those humble hopes by romping away with two Group Two events, the Prix Greffulhe and Hocquart. He started favourite for the French Derby, but could not cope with the fast going.

With the essential give back underfoot today he is expected to stake a strong Arc claim. The test will be a proper one ­ he must concede weight to all his six rivals, who include the Godolphin dark horse Equerry, transferred from André Fabre last year. The unbeaten St Jovite colt is making his seasonal debut,as a prelude to a top-level autumn campaign, but has been impressing lately at home in Newmarket.

The Godolphin team, although largely overshadowed by Ballydoyle this season, have been notching up a steady stream of Group One wins and Kutub will be trying for number nine in the Preis von Europa at Cologne this afternoon. The other British challenge comes from Mark Johnston's faithful veteran Yavana's Pace, beaten a short-head 12 months ago. Three European Derby winners are also in the field ­ Boreal, who won the German version, Russian raider Bor, who was successful in Moscow, and the Polish filly Kombinacja.

All the usual miling suspects are among an equally cosmopolitan, 23-strong entry for Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, the race that could prove the European decider in an open division. The Ballydoyle block of 11 still includes Galileo. Also there are Vahorimix, the winner of two Group Ones without passing the post first, Noverre and Proudwings, who were disqualified from, respectively, the French 2,000 Guineas and Prix Jacques le Marois in his favour, and Singaporean star Bocelli.

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