Racing: Balding offers rarity value in Grangeville

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The Independent Online
THE AYR GOLD CUP is not a race in which Ian Balding usually has an interest. When he does, however, it counts.

It was in the autumn of 1992 that the Kingsclere trainer allowed his sprinting queen to parade her talents before a Caledonian audience. Lochsong had already won the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood and the Portland at Doncaster and she continued her triumphant march at the Western meeting.

There were bigger fish to fry after Lochsong had beaten poor old Echo- Logical at odds of 10-1 by two lengths. The following season she won three Group races and a further four in 1994, a second Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp confirming that this was the best sprinter we had seen for many a year.

Grangeville may not be in that class, but as he chugged up to the west of Scotland yesterday connections at his Berkshire yard could be comforted by the fact that they were to be represented by one of this season's hardiest handicappers. The four-year-old gelding is second favourite behind Astonished for tomorrow's renewal, even though Balding acknowledges the softening ground may not be in his favour.

"I don't think the ground will be ideal for him because he's been running so well on fast ground all summer," the trainer said yesterday. "But he did win on good to soft at Sandown last year [his only win in an eight- outing campaign]. It's a little bit difficult to tell. On good, fast ground I think Grangeville would have had an outstanding chance and I wouldn't say that has gone entirely.''

Grangeville was drawn 17 at yesterday's 48-hour declaration stage, which most seem to think is an advantageous post. "I've no idea about the draw," Balding said, "but at least we're close to Astonished in 23.''

Recent evidence suggests that a high draw works, though when the going is on the soft side low numbers have had their moments. In both races last year, the Gold Cup and the consolation Silver Cup, low came out best.

Such talk did not take place when the Ayr Gold Cup, then as now run in two formats, was first established in 1804. In those days the contest was held over two miles. Lochsong might have struggled.

David Nicholls has put himself in a strong position to win the race for the first time - as either a jockey or a trainer - by saddling six of the 29 runners. Nicholls has won most things sprinting this year and now has Referendum, Wish List, Pepperdine, Zuhair, Cryhavoc and Royal Result ready to charge for him tomorrow.

The most compelling race on this particular card is always the Haynes, Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes which has delivered us Shergar and Nashwan in the past. There looks to be little to mention in their breath today, even though time may show a different interpretation. Unaware will be a conisideration after success at Chepstow, but Paradise Garden (3.40) may have achieved more at Newcastle. Amber Fort (next best 4.10) is ready to win and Poppy's Song (3.10) has the better of the weights with Nantucket on Lingfield running, but the bet of the day comes in the first televised race.

The debut form of FLUME (nap 2.40), who was fourth here last month, is persuasive. Teggiano, the winner, went on to collect the May Hill Stakes and is favourite for the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks. And the placed horses have franked the merit of the race. Femme Fatale was placed in a Listed contest at Ripon and Dancing Mirage won at Salisbury. Enough said.