Maybe, just maybe, the sorting out of 29 horses handicapped to finish in a line across the track is not as difficult as we think. The softness of the turf at Ayr provides one crucial advantage for punters: if history has any meaning at all, those drawn high might as well watch the race from the starting stalls. Low draw, low weight is the formula for success in this cacophonous scramble of legs.
Bad news for the favourite, Lochsong. She is probably slumming it in handicaps and on equal terms would dump this lot in a skip halfway down the track, but from stall 28, and with the apprentice Francis Arrowsmith replacing Willie Carson, is not to be touched at the likely starting price. Pity, because no horse has completed the treble of the Stewards' Cup, Portland Handicap and Ayr Gold Cup (Lochsong has already grabbed the first two), while the fact that she emerges from her box lame nearly every morning is further cause to respect her achievements.
Strange to see a pounds 78,000 race largely decided a day before the runners have even reached the course. For trainers, it must be a bit like waiting for an FA Cup draw ('Number six . . . Arsenal . . . versus number 37 . . . Knaresborough'), after which cries of 'we've got no chance' spread through the tack rooms of Britain. Having eliminated a dozen of today's contestants, So Rhythmical (4.15) appeals as a solid each-way bet.
Cast a quick glance over the Ayr Gold Cup field and it looks like an apprentices' race, so thinly are the top jockeys spread across Europe this afternoon. Many will be at either Newbury or The Curragh, where the Irish St Leger lavishes pounds 150,000 in prize-money on horses who are generally below that class. Drum Taps is the likely favourite here, but Mashaallah (3.55) looks a better bet, while, in the National Stakes (both races are televised), Fatherland (3.15) could provide much needed sustenance for the Vincent O'Brien stable (O'Brien has won seven of the last 10 runnings of this race).
With winners like El Gran Senor and Law Society in the last decade, the National Stakes is a rather more reliable guide to forthcoming Classics than the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury. Of course, this race has its own intrinsic worth as a contest, but still you are entitled to expect a few more clues from an event commemorating one of the all-time greats.
The owner of Sharp Prod, your livery chart will remind you, is among the few people in racing who do not keep one eye constantly peeled for the approach of the taxman. If the Queen had to do anything as vulgar as submit her accounts for inspection like the rest of us then they would show the royal racing estate in rude health, because this season she has had her best year yet both for winners bred and owned.
'I think it's mainly because she has more solid older handicappers in training this year,' Lord Huntingdon, the Queen's principal trainer, says. 'Colour Sergeant has won two (including the Hunt Cup), Piquant two, and Whitechapel three.' Also, Huntingdon is one of the sport's foremost opportunists, and the fact that Sharp Prod has won races at Bordeaux and Baden-Baden reflects his trainer's sense of adventure.
Sharp Prod should go well, but not as well as Marina Park (2.00), who ran Zafonic to a length and a quarter in the Prix Morny at Deauville. Huntingdon can connect, though, with Bangles (1.30) and Montpelier Boy (next best 2.30), while in the Autumn Cup, AL KARNAK (nap 3.00) should be given a more assertive ride than last time, when he seemed to join the race only when most of his rivals were being fed supper.
His trainer, like an ancestor of Sharp Prod's owner, was not amused.
3.15 NATIONAL STAKES 7f (BBC1 & C4): Fatherland (V O'Brien) L Piggott 15-8 fav; Ivory Frontier (J Bolger) C Roche 5-2; Khoraz (J Oxx) M J Kinane 7-1; Maroof (R Armstrong) W Carson 9-4; Rondelli (J Bolger) K J Manning 14-1.
3.55 IRISH ST LEGER 1m 6f (C4):
Drum Taps (Lord Huntingdon) J Reid 7-2; Jahafil (W R Hern) W Carson 13-2; Mashaallah (J Gosden) S Cauthen 100-30 fav; Rock Hopper (M Stoute) Pat Eddery 5-1; Snurge (P Cole) T Quinn 5-1; Vintage Crop (D Weld) M J Kinane 16-1; Tropicarr (J Bolger) K J Manning 66-1; Arrikala (J Bolger) C Roche 10-1; Dabtiya (J Oxx) R Hughes 12-1.Reuse content