THE village of Avoch on the Black Isle was party central last night after a local boy made good, retired company director turned racehorse owner Evan Sutherland, won Scotland’s biggest Flat race, the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup.
His five-year-old gelding Highland Colori, trained by Andrew Balding and impressively ridden by Irish jockey Oisin Murphy, carried Sutherland’s colours to victory in Scotland’s richest-ever Flat race, worth £155,000 in total prize money.
There may also have been a party in County Kerry in Ireland as Murphy, who turned 18 just a fortnight ago, then went on an incredible run, winning the next three races for an astonishing 9,260-1 four-in-a-row haul, unprecedented for an apprentice.
So an Irish star was born but it was a Scottish owner who raised the biggest cheer, albeit at a distance of 370 miles. For Sutherland, who now lives in London, was at Newmarket to watch another of his horses, Highland Acclaim, finish fifth to win £2,960 in the Tattersalls Millions Median Auction trophy at Newmarket.
“I didn’t fancy the drive up but we thought Highland Colori had a chance,” said Sutherland last night. “He handled the ground fine and I was surprised how easy he won in the end. It’s a very difficult race to win, but today we had the right horse, the right draw and it all fell into place.”
Sutherland was at the Craigie course last year to watch Highland Colori lose the Silver Cup by a short head “The Ayr executive really look after the owners and trainers,” said Sutherland. “I’ve been an owner for five years since I retired and I have four horses just now. I have had horses with [trainers] Andrew Balding, David O’Meara and Tom Dascombe and I have been very fortunate to have had the winners I have had.”
After his extraordinary achievement, we will hear a lot more about jockey Murphy, who, according to Sutherland is “a very good young rider who conducts himself very well”.
The story of the big race was simple. Anything in the lower half of the draw hadn’t a chance as there was a clear advantage to those drawn high on the stands side.
Murphy always had Highland Colori up with the pace and, when he took up the running over a furlong out, it was a case of who was going to finish second.
In the end, the margin was a clear two-and-a-quarter lengths over 25-1 shot Louis The Pious, ridden by Scottish jockey Danny Tudhope, who was a half-length ahead of Scotland’s big hope Jack Dexter at 8-1, with Heaven’s Guest running on for fourth with favourite Baccarat finishing in fifth.
Trainer Jim Goldie was full of praise for Jack Dexter but bemoaned the draw bias which had been evident all week. Goldie’s other horse, Hawkeyethenoo, never got in a blow from stall eight and finished 17th while the other Scottish entrant, Keith Dalgleish-trained Lover Man, faded to finish last.
Goldie said: “He [Jack Dexter] was probably the best horse but the combination of the draw bias and being top weight probably beat us.”
Murphy’s famous quadruple in less than two hours consisted of Highland Colori, 5-1 joint favourite Levitate in the next, 20-1 shot Silver Rime for Scottish trainer Linda Perratt in the Microtech Support Handicap and 5-2 favourite Cockney Sparrow in the closing Jordan Electrics Handicap.
All four races were at different distances between 6f and 1m 5f which shows that choirboy-faced Murphy is versatile. Now with 28 winners for the season, Murphy said: “It’s fantastic, I’ve never been to Scotland before but I won’t mind coming back.”
Earlier, the William Hill Ayr Silver Cup was won by 33-1 shot Ancient Cross ridden by Pat Cosgrove, who led home the first five, all drawn high on the stands’ side, proving the bias.
The winner’s veteran trainer Mick Easterby then announced that he would retire at the end of the season, handing over the reins at his stable in Yorkshire to his son David.
The Group 3 William Hill – In The App Store Firth of Clyde Stakes was won by Coral Mist at 11-2 jockey Tom Queally forcing the 11-2 shot home by the minimum distance of a nose from 16-1 chance Hoku. Godolphin’s 11-4 second favourite Sharestan won the Listed William Hill Bet On The Move Doonside Cup under Keiren Fallon, who has been the best Flat jockey out of Ireland in recent times, although he’d better look over his shoulder to check out young Murphy.