As the cavalry charge that is the Ladbroke Ayr Gold Cup reached its conclusion yesterday, the most notable thing at the Craigie course was the silence. The largest crowd at any of the day’s Scottish sporting events - three per cent up on last year at 11,000 - raised a squeaky cheer which was more of a mass gasp of anguish as outsider Bahamian Pirate coasted by the post for a ridiculously easy win.
Hitting the front more than a furlong out, Bahamian Pirate actually began to idle and his win was much more comfortable than is suggested by the official margin of one and a quarter lengths. The virtual silence as the announcer called the result was almost eerie, but there’s one place where the shouting is probably still going on - the Nicholls’ household in Thirsk. Uniquely, the winner was ridden by Adrian Nicholls, the son of its trainer David. It was a surprise victory because Bahamian Pirate was the least fancied of the trainer’s eight entries in the field, and even the bookies looked shocked - before they started laughing, that is. For the shocks reverberated down the places.
In second was Lago Di Varano at 50/1, with Guinea Hunter third at 25/1. If you had put 1 on the tricast you would now be 30,979 richer, but if you had that bet you can probably walk on water as well.
The race itself was typical of the Gold Cup in many other ways. After the usual two-way split in the field, both packs tended to coalesce in the centre where the best ground was supposed to be. Bahamian Pirate went clear and kept going long enough to foil a brave attempt by Lago Di Varano’s Scottish jockey Allan Mackay to catch him.
Guinea Hunter came flashing through for third, but the hard luck story of the day belonged to Mark Johnston’s Gaelic Storm, heavily backed from 20/1 to 8/1 favourite who didn’t get a clear run but still managed to finish fourth. In truth, Bahamian Pirate could have won by five or six lengths, as his young jockey Adrian Nicholls said after dismounting.
As Nicholls had just won the big race aboard a horse trained by his father David, better known as Dandy, there were a few heads scratched and record books consulted as the press and Ayr’s management tried to find out if this was a unique father-and-son achievement. Certainly since the Gold Cup became a sprint no such double has happened, and the race also marked the end of Adrian’s career as an apprentice.
What an advertisement as you lose your claim - winning the Gold Cup.
The horse’s previous biggest win had been a handicap at Newmarket last month when his illustrious jockey that day, Frankie Dettori, had suggested that the five-year-old gelding might benefit from blinkers. The jovial Dandy Nicholls said: "I’m glad I didn’t listen to him, and I’m not going to put them on a Gold Cup winner." Nicholls then recounted how his son - nicknamed Trotter because of his fast walk - has followed him around the tracks since infancy. "We once got fined 500 by the stewards when he was caught in the weighing room with me," said Nicholls.
Unlike previous years, the Ladbroke Silver Cup - consolation for those horses weighted out of the Gold Cup’s record entry of 171 - proved a false rehearsal for the big race, except in one respect first and second home were each priced 33-1. All the first four came from the high draw on the stand side though the winner, Lady Boxer, crossed to near the middle to come with a late run and pip Nineacres on the line.
It was the biggest win of Cheshire trainer Mike Mullineux’s fledgling career. Scottish Jockey Allan Mackay has sired that fine young apprentice Jamie, and is presently 35 winners behind his son in the jockey’s championship, but young Jamie could learn a lot from the way his father finished this race.
Grangemouth-born Mackay’s win was the only Scottish success of the day which started badly for favourite backers when hotpot Zulfaa was overturned by 8/1 shot Harrier. Zulfaa’s trainer and jockey, John Dunlop and Willie Supple, were not to be denied and Alshadiya cosily won the following Faucets Firth of Clyde Stakes.
The race preceding the Gold Cup is a historic event in itself. The Listed Doonside Cup has a long and honourable history, and this year’s running proved a testimony to the fighting qualities of one of the toughest horses in training, Geoff Wragg’s Island House. He fought out a thrilling finish with Forbearing, and the soft ground enabled Michael Roberts to overturn their running at Windsor last month.
Great News easily won the Ayrshire Handicap to give favourite backers some respite, but it was only brief as Flossy flopped behind Helen’s Day in the final race. Telly personality Lorraine Kelly presented some of the prizes and revealed her tipping system, as passed down by her mum: "anything in pink, blue or with a cross of Lorraine on it." Damn - she’s given away my secrets.