Matt Brockebank highlights the key in-form sprinters heading to Ayr this weekend who are officially ahead of the handicapper.
The weights for the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup – and its two consolation races, the Silver and Bronze Cups – were published almost a month ago on August 18, with 5lb penalties dished out to horses who have won races after August 14.
This consequently means plenty of runners, winners or otherwise, will be competing off higher or marks in future, from Blackrod who is officially 5lb well-in, to Ebury who has been dropped a total of 6lb for three lesser efforts since the weights were revealed.
The main focus here lies on those whose rating has gone up since the cut-off point, and there is no shortage of qualifiers.
Top of the list (see foot of the article) when it comes to well-handicapped sprinters heading north of the border this weekend is Blackrod, though he won’t make the cut for the main event so is one to look out for in the Silver Cup on the same Saturday card.
Michael Dods’ three-year-old has improved with every run this year and followed up his six-furlong success at Newmarket’s July Course with an ultimately cosy neck victory at York's Ebor Festival.
The Knavesmire event being an apprentice riders’ race means Blackrod escapes any kind of penalty so he’s able to compete off exactly the same mark (91) at Ayr, despite the handicapper bumping him up to 96 for future races.
Traditionally, making the cut for Friday’s Bronze Cup might even have been a stretch for the 76-rated Thegreatestshowman, though he’d have got into the last couple of editions alright.
Amy Murphy’s horse will be 4lb to the good if lining up following a back-to-form neck second at Ascot on September 4 and at one point he was rated in the low 90s as a three-year-old so should be a threat if he’s genuinely rediscovered his mojo.
As well as Blackrod, fellow in-form three-year-olds Just Frank and Popmaster are two live prospects bound for Ayr and they’re clearly far more likely to make the cut for the Gold Cup on Saturday.
Penalised for respective wins at Thirsk and Ascot since the weights came out, they’re both 2lb well-in and sit at 27 and 28 on the list of confirmations (field size limit of 25).
Just Frank looks particularly dangerous having signalled a return to peak form late last month, enthusiastically making all to beat Woven by two and a quarter-lengths in cheekpieces worn for just the second time in his career.
Les Eyre’s charge was second at Listed level at the end of his juvenile campaign, earning him a mark of 101 at the time, so remains well treated despite the 5lb extra effectively taking him back up to 100 this weekend.
Popmaster has been very progressive at three, winning twice and looking a little unlucky on other occasions too. He was a close third to Blackrod at Newmarket in July and showed his liking for a stiff six furlongs with another clear career-best at Ascot earlier in the month, where he beat Clive Cox’s Royal Scimitar by two and a half lengths.
Ryan Moore – on board at Ascot - is unlikely to be available, though trainer Ed Walker will not be short of suitors when it comes to finding a jockey for the thriving Popmaster.
The official handicapper isn’t always right, of course, and there are two notable runners technically wrong at the weights this weekend who still look very fairly treated.
That may sound contradictory but consider a horse like Ostilio, who has run twice since he was rated for this race. At the end of July, Paul Midgley’s recruit made his sixth appearance of the calendar year when ending up 17th of the 24 runners in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood.
He was dropped 4lb to 96 as a result – the mark from which he competes at Ayr – but has subsequently finished ninth at York, which prompted a further 3lb drop, before running an eyecatching fourth behind Tis Marvellous in the Beverley Bullet, which has prompted an official 1lb rise back up to 94.
So although rather complex, what is patently clear is that Ostilio has become very difficult to handicap and given he ran in Mustashry’s Lockinge in May 2019 carrying a mark of 115, it’s folly to suggest he’s badly in here, even off 96.
Sunday Sovereign is another with -2 next to his name, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
He also has stacks of back-class having made a big impression at two when winning at the Curragh and Tipperary before being sent off 13/8 favourite for the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot 2019.
Things went awry there and he’s since moved from Paddy Twomey to Roger Varian, and then quite swiftly onto Tim Easterby.
Unsurprisingly, his new handler has seemingly rekindled the fires within and he picked up his first victory for over two years when winning off a mark of 95 over five and a half furlongs at Chester last month.
The handicapper has only raised him 3lb for that, which looked potentially a touch generous at the time, and even more so now after the runner-up Gabrial The Devil went one better by beating Major Jumbo a neck back at Chester on Saturday.
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