The Ayr Gold Cup, to be contested for the 198th time on Saturday, may be Scotland's richest Flat race but it is a rare winner that keeps the cash north of Hadrian's Wall. The last victory for the home side came in 1975, when Roman Warrior famously defied a burden of 10st 6lb, and there is only one horse in with a chance of becoming a local hero this time. Hawkeyethenoo will be the sole Scottish resident in the field for the six-furlong dash and his trainer Jim Goldie is conscious of the responsibility.
"No Scottish winners has become a bit of a monkey on the back," said Goldie, who is based near the village of Uplawmoor, south-west of Glasgow, "and obviously it's a race we'd dearly like to win. If we listen to the statistics we have absolutely no chance. But the horse is in great order."
Hawkeyethenoo is a 16-1 shot for the William Hill-sponsored £120,000 purse, twice the price he was when he failed to fly the Saltire last year. But the five-year-old comes to the fray a much fresher horse this time, having raced only three times this year, including a victory in the competitive seven-furlong Victoria Cup at Ascot in May. His only outing since then was an unplaced effort over the same course in late July, and Goldie believes the drop back in distance will suit.
"I think last time he just ran with the choke out a bit and didn't get home," said the trainer. "We've freshened him up since, left him purposefully for this race, to get him there as spot-on as we can get him. And I think he is still improving."
Hawkeyethenoo, who had Kieren Fallon in the saddle last year, will be ridden this time by apprentice Gary Bartley. "The horse can be sharp," added Goldie, "but Gary switched him off beautifully when he won at Ascot."
The mixed meeting at Listowel, which today features the Kerry National, yesterday provided some charming contrasts. The juvenile maiden at the little west of Ireland track went to Athens, a blue-blooded son of Dylan Thomas, trained by Aidan O'Brien. Two hours later the main hurdle on the card was won by Much Acclaimed, bought for just £800 by a small-time operator in John Morrison, for whom he was a 12th winner in five years.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Jiwen (4.40 Sandown) Is creeping up the ratings but had plenty in hand last time and, given she showed signs of still learning her job, there is likely to be more improvement to come.
Billyrayvalentine (2.20 Sandown) Drops back to the minimum for his handicap debut, albeit to a stiff five. His latest effort, fourth on an all-weather surface, has been twice franked by the third home, who dotted up off 83 yesterday.
One to watch
In a stable full of bright juvenile filly talent, Falls Of Lora (Mahmood al-Zarooni) has not yet reached the level of some, but if her win at Ascot earlier this month is a guide, she is an exciting prospect.
Where the money's going
Leading Cambridgeshire fancy Labarinto is 5-1 favourite to take Saturday's warm-up at Newbury, the Dubai Duty Free Handicap