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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 prize fund of £200,000 this is one of the most exciting and highly contested races of the season in the UK with 25 horses hurtling down the famous home straight at Ayr.
History was made twice over in 2018 with the first ever dead heat in the race between Baron Bolt and Son Of Rest who also became the first Irish trained horse to win.
The race had looked all over just over a furlong out when Son Of Rest, trained by Fozzy Stack, shot clear. As the line approached though Baron Bolt came out of the pack and the pair crossed the line together.
It took seven agonising minutes before the result was officially announced and history was re-written.
Third place went to Tim Easterby’s Flying Pursuit while Get Knotted, trained by Micahel Dods came in fourth.
Another enthralling chapter was written into the history of this iconic race and many people will look back at the year the race ended in a dead heat and say ‘I was there’.
Past winners of this race include Lochsong in 1992 who was a year later voted European Horse of the Year.
The 2016 winner was the brilliant Brando who later won the 32Red Sprint Cup Group 1 at Haydock and another Group 1 – the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.
Son of Rest and Baron Bolt win the 2018 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.
Always a highly competitive contest, the 2018 running of the £65,000 race saw 11 runners go to post with many of the top yards in UK represented.
Queen of Bermuda, trained by William Haggas at Newmarket and ridden by Joe Fanning, was sent off favourite and duly obliged winning in style by two lengths from Shumookhi.
It was a highly impressive display by the filly who was winning for the fourth time.
Queen of Bermuda and Joe Fanning win the 2018 William Hill Firth Of Clyde Stakes
The William Hill Doonside Cup (Class 1) (Listed Race)
A Class 1 Listed Race over one mile two furlongs which has a rich history having produced some highly rated winners over the years.
In 2018 Dolphin Vista, trained by Ralph Beckett and ridden by Danny Tudhope, made virtually all to win this prestigious prize. He was made fight all the way by Andrew Balding’s Morando, the mount of David Probert, who refused to give up and battled all the way to the line.
But as the post approached Danny conjured another effort from Dolphin Vista who crossed the line half a length to the good with Aspetar, trained by Roger Charlton, a further three and a quarter lengths back in third.
All three horses plus Air Pilot who came fourth had BHA ratings of 100 plus and this running will probably prove to be one of the best of all time alongside the 2015 race which saw Scottish win from Mutakayyef and Exospheric.
Dolphin Vista and Danny Tudhope win the 2018 William Hill Doonside Cup
The Shadwell Stud Harry Rosebery Stakes (Class 1) (Listed Race)
Run on the middle day of the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup Festival – Ladies Day – this Class 1 Listed race over five furlongs has produced some terrific winners over the years including the brilliant Quiet Reflection in 2015.
In 2018 a quality field of 12 runners went to post and there was a nail biting finish with jockey Graham Lee producing Ralph Beckett’s Dave Dexter in the shadow of the post to collar Vintage Brut and win by a neck.
This was a classy renewal of the great race and it will be well worth following the progress of the first two home along with Secret Venture who finished third.
Dave Dexter and Graham Lee win the 2018 Shadwell Stud Harry Rosebery Stakes
The Al Maktoum Cup Arran Scottish Fillies Sprint Stakes, Class 1 Listed Race
This Listed race was run for the first time on the Friday of the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup Festival in 2018 and produced a tremendous contest.
Run over a relatively new distance for Ayr of five and a half furlongs 15 runners lined up
Intense Romance, trained by Michael Dods just held on by an ever diminishing short head to beat Mayleaf Shine from the Ian Jardine yard.
Young jockey Callum Rodriguez was riding his first Listed winner and couldn’t hide his delight afterwards.
Intense Romance with Callum Rodriguez win the 2018 Al Maktoum Cup Arran Scottish Fillies Sprint Stakes
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
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.
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
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