Racing: Taking the high road suits Spirit in Gold Cup

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The Independent Online

It comes as something of a surprise to learn that Robert Burns died eight years before the first running of the Ayr Gold Cup, as there might have been no more obvious source for his observation about best-laid plans going "aft agley".

The one man who might have persuaded himself that he had mastered the race was David Nicholls, who has saddled the winner four times in six years. But now it has reminded even Nicholls of his mortal limitations. He missed the deadline for entries this year, and given that he tends to run at least half a dozen horses, this field has a rather unfamiliar feel.

Needless to say, the perennial question remains which side of the track you need to be drawn. Judged on the meeting's first two days, more will want to take the high road than the low.

No horse has ever been better christened for this race than Hogmaneigh, now down to 4-1 with the sponsors, Totesport. Much the least exposed runner, he contested another historic prize at York last week in the Portland Handicap, breaking dozily and weaving through late for third place. Over the extra distance, he has obvious prospects of reversing form with the penalised winner, Fantasy Believer, and will one day be much higher in the handicap than he is now. No less obviously, he is not a very tempting price for a notoriously cut-throat race.

The draw was made on Thursday by Allan Wells, who remains unrivalled in the annals of Scottish sprinting since Roman Warrior kept this prize at home in 1975. A formidable candidate emerges from Lanarkshire, however, in Appalachian Trail, who recently won a listed race at Newmarket when dropped to this trip for the first time in his career. But he does need everything to fall right, with a late split from the strongest pace.

Burns also sounded like a man well versed in form when he wrote that "some books are lies frae end to end", and it may pay to seek a more adventurous solution. The belt-and-braces short list comprises one horse from either side of the track, both with similar profiles and available at 25-1 or bigger.

It must be said that each was last seen pretty much with their trousers round their ankles - Prince Namid finishing only ninth of 12, and Skhilling Spirit eighth of 12. But they were returning from a long midsummer break, and can now be expected to resume the excellent progress they were making earlier in the season.

Skhilling Spirit had been absent since winning a listed race at Haydock in heavy ground May, getting up close home and confirming that he needs a thorough test at this trip. Prince Namid, in contrast, has more basic sprinting speed, having won three times over five furlongs, and also shown his form on faster ground - including when flying downhill into second at Epsom on Derby day.

The track was drying out yesterday, but historically this race represents a thorough test and any lingering stickiness may just blunt Prince Namid's toe. With what seems the superior draw, preference must be for SKHILLING SPIRIT (nap 3.15).

Enticing's slick form over five furlongs on lively ground may not be sufficient to stem the progressive La Presse (2.10) over a sixth in the Sportsman Firth Of Clyde Stakes. This young filly looked one of the best around when beating colts in a York maiden that is working out well.

The other televised race at Ayr offers a solid opportunity for Rio Riva (next best 2.40), who resumed his overall progress when returning from a break at Ripon last time. Though he won fairly narrowly, he has gone up just 3lb as a result, and seemed to be idling in front.

Channel 4 also takes in some excellent sport from Newbury, notably another visit from the explosive Irish sprinter Dandy Man (4.05) for the Dubai International Airport Trophy. An attempt to restrain him early backfired at York last time, but he should outclass this lesser field.

The best horses on view this weekend, however, can be found at the Curragh, where Aidan O'Brien will be hoping to mop up the final Group One races of the Irish season.

Yeats should confirm himself the finest stayer of recent seasons in the Irish Field St Leger today, while tomorrow O'Brien saddles Holy Roman Emperor in an engrossing encounter with Teofilio in the Laing O'Rourke National Stakes - a race won in recent years by Sinndar, Hawk Wing, Dubawi, King Of Kings and George Washington.

Jim Bolger describes Teofilio as the best he has trained and this commanding son of Galileo has already beaten O'Brien's Eagle Mountain in another of the keynote races for Irish juveniles, the Futurity Stakes.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Skhilling Spirit (Ayr 3.15)

NB: Rio Riva (Ayr 2.40)