Anyone who was forced into a betting shop to shelter from the rain which drenched much of England yesterday may well have whiled away the time looking for a soft-ground horse in Saturday's Ayr Gold Cup. If so, they were probably wasting both time and money, since Ayr racecourse itself was enjoying the latest in a series of what one local resident described as "absolutely gorgeous" autumn days.
Since the resident concerned is Linda Perratt, and she trains across the road from the entrance to the track, it seems fair to assume that the going on the six-furlong course, where 29 sprinters will chase a share of £100,000 on Saturday, is no worse than good. Though showers are forecast later in the week, this is excellent news for the trainer John Cullinan, who yesterday gave Smokin Beau, last week's Portland Handicap winner, the go-ahead to run this weekend. As far as Perratt is concerned, though, it is something of a mixed blessing, since one of her two likely Gold Cup runners, Get Stuck In, likes some cut, while the other, Ho Leng, is much better on a sound surface.
Get Stuck In, along with Smokin Beau, will be of close interest to many punters when the draw is made, since both like to set a fierce pace. If both are close to the same rail it may pay to look at that side of the track for the winner.
"As a three- and four-year-old, we always thought that he wanted six furlongs, but as he's got stronger, I think he's probably better over five," Perratt says. "We'll have to hope that we can hang on to him for a bit longer, but he's a little quickie to ride and I think most folk will want to be drawn near us. Horses have won from all sides, but you probably want to be near the pace, and the middle might be no-man's land."
Ho Leng, meanwhile, needs three horses to come out of the race further up the field if he is to get a run, having plunged down the weights since his last attempt at the race in 1999, when he carried top weight.
"Normally we've got 10st and it's already started raining by now," Perratt says. "This year the sun's shining, and we've got to keep our fingers crossed that he actually gets in, which is quite frightening." If Ho Leng does squeeze past the cut, though, he is weighted to go well, while his run in the Portland Handicap, when he lost many lengths at the start, can be safely ignored.
Smokin Beau was declared a runner for the race yesterday when his future handicap mark was raised 4lb for his victory at Doncaster, enough to persuade Cullinan that he might as well carry a 7lb penalty on Saturday. "He has gone up to 102 and will definitely go to Ayr," Cullinan said. "The weather forecast is much better there, there is due to be a lot of rain at Newbury and the going is likely to be softer there.
"He has won over six furlongs before so I am not worried about the trip and I think he can win. He weighs more now than when he left for the Portland, so he is very resilient, he is improving, and he should run well."
Smokin Beau is a 20-1 chance with the Tote, who have a new favourite for the race in Guinea Hunter, the Stewards' Cup winner, who finished fast into third in the Portland. John Carroll was booked to ride Guinea Hunter yesterday, replacing Jamie Spencer, who was in the saddle at Goodwood but has been claimed by Luca Cumani to ride at Newmarket on Saturday.
Guinea Hunter is 8-1 (from 10-1) to improve on his third place in the race last season, when he raced off a mark of 99, 4lb below his current rating. "I won on Guinea Hunter at Haydock a couple of years ago and it's a good ride to pick up," Carroll said yesterday. "He would have every chance. The way the race is run will suit him as there should be plenty of pace and hopefully he will be drawn in the right place. He should run a big race."
* François Doumen's Jim And Tonic, a regular on the Far East circuit, stayed in France for his latest win in the Group Three La Coupe de Maisons-Laffite yesterday. Geoff Wragg's Island House managed only sixth but the trainer had better luck when Monnavanna, under Darryl Holland, finished second to Deep Sleep in the Group Three Prix de Seine-et-Oise.