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Ayr Racecourse is not only home to Scotland’s two biggest Festivals – the Coral Scottish Grand National Festival and the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup Festival – but also hosts all of Scotland’s top races including its only Group race and several Listed races.
There is quality in abundance at Ayr over the year with Scotland’s most prestigious races under both codes – jumps and flat being staged at the track.
In jumps racing two of the top 12 most valuable jumps handicaps of the season are run at Ayr – the Coral Scottish Grand National and the QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle.
The 2018 running of the Coral Scottish Grand National produced the closest ever finish in the race’s rich history when Joe Farrell, trained by Rebecca Curtis and ridden by Adam Wedge, crossed the line a nose in front of Ballyoptic.
Joe Farrell jumping to glory in the 2018 Coral Scottish Grand National
Back in fifth place was the 2016 and 2017 winner Vicente who gave it his best shot to become the first horse in more than 100 years to win three consecutive Scottish Grand Nationals.
The race is the fourth biggest in terms of betting turnover in the UK.
The main supporting race on Coral Scottish Grand National Saturday is the £105,000 QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle, one of the top five handicap hurdle races of its type in Britain.
This year’s race produced a fine winner in the Sue Smith trained Midnight Shadow ridden by Danny Cook who showed great resolve in battling all the way to the line to hold off favourite Claimantakinforgan by a length and three quarters.
The highlight of the flat season is the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup in September, Scotland's most valuable and famous flat race. The William Hill Ayr Silver Cup and William Hill Ayr Bronze Cup are consolation races for horses that miss the cut for the Gold Cup, which features some of the highest rated sprinters in the land.
Throughout the season there are many highlights including the Class 1 Group 3 William Hill Firth Of Clyde Stakes, Scotland’s only Group race, the Class 1 Listed William Hill Doonside Cup, the Class 1 Listed Shadwell Stud Harry Rosebery Stakes, the Class 1 listed Scottish Sun/British Stallion Studs EBF Fillies Land O'Burns Stakes, the Class 1 Listed British Stallion Studs EBF Tennent's Rothesay Stakes and, the brand new for 2017, Class 1 Listed Arran Scottish Fillies Sprint Stakes.
Ayr is Scotland’s premier racecourse and only Grade One track here are some of the races that underpin the high quality of racing at the course.
THE TOP RACES AT AYR
Class 1 Grade 3 Coral Scottish Grand National
This historic race run over four miles and with 27 fences to negotiate is the second richest run on a Saturday during the national hunt season, the fourth biggest race in terms of betting turnover in the UK and is watched by more than a million viewers on ITV 1.
First raced at Ayr in 1966 the 2018 renewal produced the tightest ever finish in the history of the race with Joe Farrell, a 33-1 shot, just holding on by a nose to repel the fast finishing Ballyoptic. It was a sweet success for trainer Rebecca Curtis who was having her biggest ever winner at the end of a lean season. The winning jockey Adam Wedge had previously ridden a winner on this day back in 2013 when Court Minstrel won the QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle.
The race has a rich history and was won in 1974 by Red Rum who triumphed at Ayr two weeks after winning the Grand National at Aintree.
Ferdy Murphy (Paris Pike 2000, Joe’s Edge 2005, Hot Weld 2007), Nigel Twiston-Davies (Captain Dibble 1992, Earth Summit (1994, Hello Bud 2009) and Paul Nicholls (Belmont King 1997, Vicente 2016, 2017) have all trained three Scottish Grand National winners.
Vicente, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies became the first horse since Androma in 1985 to win back to back Scottish Grand Nationals in 2016 and 2017.
Class 2 Dawn Homes Novices’ Championship Handicap Chase
Run for the first time in 2018 this £100,000 race is a classy addition to the Coral Scottish Grand National Saturday card and is a championship[p final for novice chasers and was supported by the BHA’s Development Fund as part of its 2018 expenditure.
The first winner was the Irish raider Crosshue Boy trained by Sean Doyle and ridden by amateur jockey Harley Dunne. Both were having their first winners at Ayr from their first ever runners at the track. The horse travelled well throughout the race and won by a length from Dingo Dollar.
Irish raider Crosshue Boy winner of the inaugural running of the 2018 Dawn Homes Novices’ Championship Handicap Chase
Class 1 Grade 2 QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle
With £105,000 in prize-money this is well established as one of the top two mile handicap hurdles in British racing.
Ooozing quality this contest has attracted 16 runners in each of the last two years and in 2018 many leading stables including those of Dan Skelton, Nicky Henderson, Kevin Ryan, Alan King, Warren Greatrex, Gordon Elliott and Philip Hobbs were represented.
The five year-old Midnight Shadow emerged from midfield to lead just after the third last and kept on well to spring a 25-1 surprise with the race favourite Claimantakinforgan in second spot. Trained by Sue Smith in Bingley and ridden by Danny Cook this is a horse who could develop into a true first class hurdler.
Midnight Shadow (orange cap) and Danny Cook repel all challengers to win the 2018 QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle
William Hill Ayr Gold Cup
The richest flat race in Scotland with a total prize fund of £200,000 in 2016. One of the truly exciting races of the flat season in the UK with 25 horses hurtling down the home straight and the winner crossing the line around 70 second after leaving the stalls.
Past winners include Lochsong in 1992, a horse that twice won the Cartier Award as top European sprinter and in 1993 was voted European Horse of the Year.
In 2016 Brando, running off a mark of 110, became the highest rated horse ever to win the Gold Cup ridden by Tom Eaves and giving trainer Kevin Ryan his fourth success in the race following Advanced (2007), Our Jonathan (2011) and captain Ramius (2012)
Brando landed the 2016 William Hill Ayr Gold Cup
Class 1 Grade 2 Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Chase
This is a race steeped in history that over the years has produced some high quality winners including Sparky Gale (1997), Grey Abbey (2001), Monet’s Garden (2004), French Opera (2010) and Cloudy Dream (2017).
In 2018 a small but select band of five runners went to post and at the business end of the race the Harry Whittington trained Bigmatre won by a length and three quarters from Cobra De Mai. These were the only two horses to finish.
The future looks bright for this seven year-old.
Bigmatre makes a bold leap en route to winning the Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Chase
The William Hill Firth Of Clyde Stakes( Class 1 ) (Group 3)
Scotland’s only Group race which is run on William Hill Ayr Gold Cup Saturday over six furlongs and gained Group status in 2004.
Bryan Smart trained Delectation to win the 2016 renewal in what was only her second race having won a Thirsk maiden five weeks earlier.
Ridden by Paul Mulrennan this was the trainer’s third win in 10 years in the race having previously saddled Unilateral (2007) and Distinctive (2009).
Secret Number and Danny Tudhope win the William Hill Doonside Cup in 2016
The William Hill Doonside Cup (Class 1) (Listed Race)
A Class 1 Listed Race over one mile two furlongs which attracts some top class horses from leading stables.
In 2015 we saw one of the classiest renewals of the race with Scottish, winning for trainer Andrew Balding and jockey David Probert, Willie Haggas’s Mutakayyef was second with Exosphere, trained by Sir Micahel Stoute third. These three are now all rated between 116 and 120 and have all won Group races.
We saw another high class winner in 2016 when the Saeed bin Suroor trained Secret Number, ridden by Danny Tudhope powered to victory after being out of action for almost a year.
The Shadwell Stud Harry Rosebery Stakes (Class 1) (Listed Race)
This Class 1 Listed Race over five furlongs is the feature of the middle day of the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup Festival – Ladies Day.
The best horse ever to win the race is the filly Quiet Reflection successful in 2015. Trained by Karl Burke she has gone on to win the Sprint Cup (Group 1) at Doncaster, Commonwealth Cup (Group 1 ) at Royal Ascot, the Sandy Lane Stakes (Group 2) at Haydock and two Group 3s – Newmarket’s Dubai Cornwallis Stakes and the Prix Sigy at Chantilly.
In 2016 the Harry Rosebery was won in emphatic fashion by another Filly, the Keith Dalgleish trained, Phillip Makin ridden Clem Fandango.
Will she be another Group class horse. Only time will tell.
The Scottish Sun/British Stallion Studs Ebf Fillies Land O’ Burns Stakes (Listed Race)
This is traditionally one of the fastest races run at Ayr and the five furlong course record of 55.68 seconds was set in this contest in 2008 by Alan Berry’s prolific filly Look Busy.
In 2018 the winner was Kevin Ryan’s Elnadim Star, ridden by Kevin Stott, who came from off the pace to win in the style of a good filly. In doing so she beat Sandra’s Secret into second place.
In 2016 the race was won by Marsha, from the Sir Mark Prescott stable at Newmarket who later went on to win two Group 1s - the Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly and the Nunthorpe at York.
Marsha then wrote her place into the record books when being sold for a European record six million guineas at the Tattersalls Sales last December
Class 1 Listed Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase
Trainer Dan Skelton secured back to back wins in this prestigious race, run on the opening day of the Coral Scottish Grand National Festival, when Value At Risk won the 2018 running under a fine ride from Harry Skelton.
It was an eyecatching display by the nine year old who held off the fast finishing Sizing Platinum by a length to clinch the lucrative first prize.
In 2017 it was Two Taffs who brought home the spoils for the Skelton camp . Other previous winners include Definitly Red (2016) from the Brian Ellison yard and in 2015 the first year it had been run as a Listed race Presenting Junior, trained by Martin Todhunter, was victorious.
Value At Risk, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by Harry Skelton wins the 2018 Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase
Class 1 Listed Scotty Brand Handicap Chase
The race that starts the day on Coral Scottish Grand National Saturday and competitive two mile chase which was awarded Listed status in 2013.
Leading trainer Nicky Henderson saddled Theinval to win the 2018 running having also been responsible for Vaniteux who won in 2017.
Previous winners include Duke of Navan in 2015, Raya Star in 2012 and Noble Request in 2010. Leading trainers to have captured this prize include Alan King, Nicky Richards and Phillip Hobbs.
Theinval (yellow colours) and Jerry McGrath win the Scotty Brand Handicap Chase
The Tennent’s British Stallion Studs EBF Rothesay Stakes, Class 1 Listed Race
The £50,000 race for fillies and mares aged four years and upwards was first run in 2016.
In 2018 trainer Keith Dalgleish won the race for the second time when Euro Nightmare, owned by Stuart Morrison, made headway inside the final furlong to pass Snowy Winter and win by a length and a quarter.
It was a highly impressive run by the filly who was winning for the fifth time.
Keith’s previous winner of the contest was Maleficent Queen when it was first run in 2016.
In between times this one mile two furlongs race went to Nezwaah, sent off a hot favourite for trainer Roger Varian and jockey Andrea Atzeni, who was riding at the track for the first time.
She left the stalls smoothly and settled well and was always travelling for Andrea but got ‘boxed in’ over a furlong out and had to be switched to challenge from the outside – a move which cost her a length.
But when she hit the front there was only one winner and she eased past the post to win by three and three quarter lengths from Sophie P with last year’s winner Maleficent Queen a nose back in third place.
Nezwaah has since gone on to win the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes at The Curragh underlining her class.
2018 trainer Keith Dalgleish won the race for the second time when Euro Nightmare
The Al Maktoum Cup Arran Scottish Fillies Sprint Stakes, Class 1 Listed Race
Run over 5 and a half furlongs (a new distance for Ayr) this £50,000 Listed Race becomes the sixth Class 1 contest on the Flat to be run at the track. Sure to attract a quality field of Fillies this will be run on William Hill Ayr Gold Cup Festival Ladies Day on Friday September 22.
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