Chris McGrath: Zidane can head gold rush at Ayr

Inside Track
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The Independent Online

Quaint as it seems, the theory that pets resemble their owners is actually thought to have a degree of substance. In one study, a photographed sample of dogs and owners was correctly paired by two-thirds of those asked to do so. Apparently it pretty much boiled down to some shaggy, shambling guy, with a big goofy grin, proving the obvious proprietor of a golden retriever.

The canine world, it would seem, holds up a mirror to us all. There are sassy dogs, and elegant dogs; there are dogs who are slobs, and dogs who are thugs. Possibly there are even dogs who know that they need to sort their lives out, but will do it tomorrow. (Must look into getting one of those some time.)

Whether animal and master can achieve some kind of assimilation simply by sharing their lives is another matter. One way or another, however, a similar phenomenon is certainly observable between thoroughbreds and their trainers.

True, a trainer will become identified with a particular type of horse partly through his clients' resources and aspirations. Henry Cecil, for instance, has long been acknowledged as especially dextrous with Classic fillies. And it can be no coincidence that so many of his most important patrons have been owner-breeders. At the same time, could it not be that Cecil's exquisite sensibilities, otherwise evident in his rose garden and wardrobe, make him ideally equipped for horses of a more delicate disposition?

Yes, Richard Hannon buys a certain type of yearling for a certain type of owner. But the suspicion persists that you could put precisely the same animal in the care of Mark Johnston and end up with a radically different racehorse. And, of course, vice versa. Different methods clearly play to different strengths. Some horses might as well go round the parade ring with the trainer's initials seared into the rump.

There is perhaps no better example than David Nicholls, whose CV identifies him as an extraordinary trainer of sprinters. In fairness, this kind of thing can be self-fulfilling. There may be other dimensions to Nicholls that will never be explored, simply because few would nowadays send him anything but a sprinter. Earlier this season, Nicholls won a Listed race at Leopardstown, with Hindu Kush, over a mile and three-quarters. So it is not as if all his horses would collapse exhausted the moment they enter a seventh furlong. As it is, however, all we can say for sure is that he is less jack of all trades than master of one.

The big race of the day, the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup, has become the touchstone of his talents. Even though trainers at every point of the compass target the race for months in advance, such is its history and value, Nicholls has won five out of the past nine runnings – even with his office missing the entry deadline in 2006. Sky Bet's offer of 3-1 against any of his six runners winning this time may sum up their individual chances, but does not look at all a bad price measured against the man's record.

What makes his achievement still more remarkable is that the draw can sometimes maroon half the field. Endless analysis beforehand seldom identifies which half, however, so there is no point being dogmatic.

Evens And Odds heads the Nicholls team this year, having looked potentially very smart when starting out for the yard in the spring, and bounced back with an excellent second in the Stewards' Cup, first home on the far side. Rather more attractive odds are available about Sonny Red, who disappointed that day but has since hinted again that he is worth another chance back over this sixth furlong. He kept some pretty smart company in his youth, and is tempting at 25-1.

Lest we forget, however, there are 21 runners not trained by Nicholls, and among them Redford and Signor Peltro both warrant respect on the basis that their form over a seventh furlong has promised even better over six. But pick of the market at 20-1 is Zidane (3.10).

He is a tricky ride, and a formidable challenge for a new rider today. However, he is very fairly treated, just 2lb higher than winning the 2007 Stewards' Cup, and has repeatedly gone close in Pattern company since. Like most of his stable, he only crept back to form this summer, but comes here with two cracking runs under his belt. He will get the cover he needs against the rail and, for all his quirks, has shown the stomach for picking his way through a big field.

And while there are times when you are better off taking after your trainer than your namesake, at least Zidane should know to put his head down in a photo.

Ameer advances down tried and tested route to Derby

Some vintage names decorate the history of the Haynes, Hanson & Clark Stakes. It has produced four Derby winners, for a start, not least Shergar himself – and two of them even managed to get beaten, including Authorized three years ago. Whether Ameer has that kind of potential remains to be seen, but he certainly gave Godolphin fresh reasons to be cheerful in making all the running at Newbury yesterday.

Winner of a Newmarket maiden first time out, he proved strong in the market here against some useful prospects. Frankie Dettori proceeded to control the pace to his liking, and Ameer comfortably held Private Story by three- quarters of a length. Back in third was Lunar Victory, an American-bred colt trained by John Gosden for Khaled Abdulla, who suggested that he has a big future himself in the way he closed from off the pace before flattening out.

Ameer's trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, described the winner as "still very weak", but indicated that he will have another run this autumn. A son of the excellent German stallion, Monsun, he was dignified with an Investec Derby quote of 25-1 by Totesport.

The card also featured the Dubai Duty Free Arc Trial, which came a little closer to living up to its grandiose billing than has sometimes been the case. Doctor Fremantle did well to collar Look Here, having been restrained off a steady pace. Ryan Moore seemed at pains to keep his mount covered up, but he has won three out of four starts this term and is now entitled to try his luck back at the top level

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Roker Park (2.05 Ayr)

Much improved for his new trainer earlier in the season, he resumed that progress when third in a Listed race over the bare five furlongs last time. This trip suits better and only an anonymous draw tempers confidence.

*Next best

Class Is Class (2.50 Newbury)

Left too much to do when stepped up in distance at York last time, but looks sure to thrive off a stronger gallop back over this trip. He remains potentially better than a handicapper.

*One to watch

Caranbola (M Brittain)

Was a useful juvenile and, having plunged down the handicap since, was unlucky not to win at Beverley on Wednesday, charging into a photo after being hampered and losing her place early.

*Where the money's going

After the far side dominated the "Bronze Cup" at Ayr yesterday, the sponsors go 13-8 low number (1-9), 11-8 middle (10-18), and 9-4 high (19-27) to prevail in the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup.