Pepper favourite to land pot in Ayr dash


Those at the top of the class have this weekend off, and that will include the elite sprint division's most recent recruit. Hoof It carried top weight to victory in the Stewards' Cup, but after his close third in the Haydock Sprint Cup showed he could mix it with the best he will not be asked to repeat his Goodwood feat in another of the season's most fiercely fought handicaps, the Ayr Gold Cup.

The Mick Easterby-trained four-year-old, who had topped most bookmakers' lists, was not among yesterday's declarations for Scotland's most valuable Flat race. His place as favourite has been taken by Pepper Lane, 10-1 with the six-furlong dash sponsors William Hill.

The filly, set to carry 9st 4lb on Saturday, is trained by the upwardly mobile, Yorkshire-based David O'Meara and is on a four-timer, with the Great St Wilfrid Stakes at Ripon last month the latest success in her own progressive career.

"She's fine," said former jump jockey O'Meara, in only his second season as a trainer, "and the plan is to run. I don't know yet who'll ride her, but it will be Danny Tudhope or Silvestre de Sousa." Both men have won on the daughter of Exceed And Excel this season.

At this stage there are 202 horses left in the £120,000 Ayr Gold Cup, which has a safety limit of 27, though the names at the top of the list who miss the cut can contest the consolation Silver Cup earlier on the same card. Other defectors yesterday who had been prominent in the betting for the main event include Tiddliwinks, Dafeef, Desert Law and the 2009 winner, Jimmy Styles.

French trainer Alain de Royer-Dupré, who won two of Sunday's three trials for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with Sarafina, the big-race favourite, and Reliable Man, yesterday reported both his Chantilly stable stars to have taken their Longchamp exertions in their elegant strides.

"Sarafina was not very fit," he said, "and should improve a lot, which is normal for her when she has a race after a break. Reliable Man is now stronger than he was at the beginning of the season and if he makes further progress he could be very competitive."

Punters agree with the last sentiment; Reliable Man is the one who has caught their imagination, now down to 7-1 in most lists.

Turf Account

* Chris McGrath's Nap

Gramercy (4.40 Yarmouth)

Fresher than most at this time of year and has been impressing at home.

* Next best

Rogue Reporter (3.20 Folkestone)

* One to watch

Chester on Friday was not enough of a stamina test for Chilly Filly (Brian Ellison), but she remains well-handicapped.

* Where the money's going

Colonel Mak is 12-1 from 16-1 with Ladbrokes for Saturday's Ayr Gold Cup.