There is super-competitive racing to enjoy this weekend with the highlight the Western Meeting at Ayr.
The weather has done its best to cause problems, with day one abandoned on Thursday due to waterlogging. Day two got the go ahead, albeit on heavy ground, as once again the unpredictable summer is throwing curved balls at the racecourse executive.
So, the Ayr Gold Cup is the feature and 27 have been declared for the six furlong handicap although Jonny Mudball is a non-runner. Our Jonathan is bidding to complete a difficult task by winning this race in consecutive years. Kevin Ryan will be one of the trainers that won't mind the rain that has hit the Scottish venue as this horse is effective on soft ground. He will be coming out of stall 12 which is possibly a touch low as the trainers seemed keen to be drawn high (stands side) when the public draw was made, but he did win from this gate last year.
He is only 1lb higher in the weights than when successful 12 months ago too. Ryan saddles three other runners, Pintura, Louis the Pious and Captain Ramius. Drawn next to Our Jonathan in 11 is The Cheka who ran a cracker in testing ground to be second in the Group 1 July Cup. He has since run well in both Group 1 and Group 3 company. As a result though he has plenty of weight and is 2lbs higher in the handicap than his only other try in this grade which saw him finish third at Ascot last October. He can go well, though.
Doc Hay stayed on like a steam train to win the Portland at Doncaster last time out and he now has a 5lb penalty. Waffle has been supported this week for David Barron who is a trainer you always like to have on your side in decent handicaps. He also saddles Pearl Ice who is held in some regard by his handler and is a lightly-raced improving horse. Alben Star is another who has been backed. Richard Fahey trains this horse who is a pound lower in the ratings than when last successful. Irish raider Maarek has top weight, but that hasn't put some punters off backing him. That's because he will love the ground, has been freshened up after a summer break and has been acquitting himself well in group company and hasn't stopped improving. So plenty to recommend him.
Ten year-old Borderlescott won the Beverley Bullet last time out and show he retains plenty of enthusiasm for the game. This could be the last time we see him in Britain as the plan is to run in the Abbaye and he could then be retired. Hawkeyethenoo was last out the hat in the draw and Jim Goldie was left with stall three, drawn two away from Borderlescott who is in one. Despite the low draw he isn't unfancied and has Graham Lee in the saddle. It's notoriously difficult to sort out, but I'm going to go with Pearl Ice who is drawn well in 21, will love the ground and has had a break and been gelded so there could be more to come. Staying at Ayr and there are also two consolation races to sift through but they look difficult. They should provide us some information regarding the draw though so keep a close eye on those earlier contests.
Test for Royal Rascal
The Firth of Clyde Stakes is a Group 3 for juvenile fillies over six furlongs and this will be a real test in this ground. Tim Easterby's representative Royal Rascal has the best form and is also a winner on soft and although she is a likely short priced favourite is hard to oppose. She was only beaten by two lengths when third in the Lowther at York last time out and she wasn't stopping at the end of that 6 furlong Group 2 so hopefully she won't struggle here in this ground.
No such problems at Newbury where the fixture got underway on decent ground on Friday. The Mill Reef is a Group 2 over six furlongs and eight go to post for this smart juvenile contest. You can't confidently rule any of these out and Heavy Metal will be popular for Mark Johnston and Kieren Fallon after his win in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood and second to the smart Blaine in the Gimcrack last time out. He has a 3lb penalty though which continues to make his life tough. Master of War hails from the Richard Hannon stable and has champion jockey elect Richard Hughes in the plate. He was only beaten by half a length by Heavy Metal in the Richmond and is better off at the weights. Moohaajim is interesting for Marco Botti having won his maiden and then run a very respectable race when beaten 2 ¼ lengths by Reckless Abandon in the Group 1 Prix Morny on his second start. He was still green there and I'm going with him given normal improvement with experience.
Just five horses have been declared for the Dubai Duty Free Arc Trial (a Group 3 over 1m 3f). It's an Arc trial in name only though as none of the runners hold an entry in the premier middle distance Group 1, which is usually the case. Once again though there isn't much between these runners. Roger Varian has had a bit of a frustrating time of things by his high standards and it was encouraging to see him back amongst the winners this week because I think his Cameron Highland can go well. The three year-old is improving and ran well to win a listed race at Windsor last time out. He had the option of the Leger so he is obviously well thought of and my only concern is that he has shown his best form with some cut in the ground. He moves well though so I hope he can be just as effective on this better surface.
The Dubai Duty Free Handicap is the big betting race at Newbury and Sky Bet have installed Blue Surf as their 5/1 favourite. He has plenty of gears and can be forgiven his latest run at Ascot when he was hampered and eased. The 1m 2f trip suits him. Kirthill is next best at 6/1 and has top weight for the Cumani/Fallon combo and despite the weight he has strong claims after winning at York last time out. He is only 5lbs higher in the ratings for his recent win and that may not anchor him. However, it could be than an extra couple of furlongs would suit better. I don't think Area Fifty One is without a chance after some decent efforts recently and this trip seems his optimum although he seems to be plenty high enough in the handicap. I'd give Specific Gravity a chance if the track has significant rain as his best form has come on softer than good to firm. Andrew Balding's Expense Claim has had a decent season and has been off since July so should come here a fresh horse. This trip is ideal, but I think a bit more ease in the ground wouldn't go amiss although he has run well on good to firm this season. The obvious selection is Blue Surf and I'm going with this likely improver in an ultra-competitive race.
Pearl Ice in the Ayr Gold Cup @ 14/1 with Sky Bet
Royal Rascal in the Firth of Clyde Stakes
Moohaajim in the Mill Reef
Cameron Highland in the Dubai Duty Free Arc Trial
Blue Surf in the Dubai Duty Free Handicap @ 5/1 with Sky Bet