Ayr racecourse is located on the West Coast of Scotland, hosting both flat and jumps races. Scotland’s most popular and valuable flat race is the Ayr Gold Cup, a big field handicap over six furlongs. The race forms the climax of the three-day Ayr Gold Cup Festival which runs from Thursday to Saturday in mid-September.
The Gold Cup takes place on the Saturday and, aided by Scotland’s only Group race the Firth Of Clyde Stakes, forms the country’s richest single raceday. Doonside Cup Day kicks off proceedings on Thursday, with Ladies Day on Friday and the big day itself on day 3.
There are eight races each day with a total of twenty-four over the course of the Festival meaning there is plenty of action for punters at Scotland’s most valuable racing meeting.
Ayr Gold Cup Day Races
|1:20||Microtech Group EBF Nursery Handicap||Class 2||1m|
|1:55||Jordan Electrics Doonside Cup Stakes||Listed||1m2f|
|2:30||QTS Ayr Silver Cup Handicap||Class||6f|
|3:05||Scotty Brand Firth Of Clyde Fillies’ Stakes||Group 3||6f|
|3:40||Ayr Gold Cup Handicap||Class 2||6f|
|4:15||Luxury Staycations At Western House Hotel Handicap||Class 2||1m|
|4:50||Brandinghub Signs & Print Handicap||Class 3||1m5f|
A Complete History of the Ayr Gold Cup Festival
For over two centuries, the coastal town of Ayr has hosted its very own Gold Cup. From a modest beginning, it has grown into Europe’s most valuable flat handicap contest and a massive betting event.
Every September the race takes centre stage as part of a three day festival, aptly if unimaginatively named the Ayr Gold Cup Festival. The entire festival has existed almost as long, first as a two day affair but now a highly-anticipated three day contest running from Thursday to Saturday.
1804 – Ayr sees Gold
The two mile Ayr Gold Cup makes it first ever appearance, taking place on the former racecourse at Belleisle. A horse by the name of Chancellor claimed victory in the inaugural running and did so again the following year. To mark this achievement, the current Ayr Racecourse has named a restaurant in his honour!
It is worth noting that the race organisers initially limited the race to Scottish thoroughbred racehorses only. While an international event today, this has not always been the case. Not only this, but to begin with the race operated as two separate heats of two miles rather than just being a single contest.
1824 – Festival foundations laid
The first ever properly organised race meeting was organised at Ayr in 1771. It is only in 1824 however that we see the beginning of what we know today as the Gold Cup Festival. The Western Meeting, as it was known then, was created by the local Western Meeting Club who only formed earlier the same year. To begin with, and for many years later, the festival was a strictly two day affair.
1838 – Festival begins to thrive
The Western Meeting proved to be an instant hit with trainers and punters alike. 14 years after its first appearance, it offered a huge £2,000 in total prize money, not far from £250,000 in today’s money. It even included a two-year-old only event, which was the richest of its kind in the whole of Britain.
1855 – Handicap status introduced
For the first time, the Ayr Gold Cup was run as a handicap event. This decision was not a controversial one but the race itself very much was. Thomas Aldcroft was the jockey who ended up first past the post but he made the mistake of dismounting prior to the winner’s enclosure. This error led to his disqualification with the race instead awarded to John Dory, a rather fishy tale.
1869 – Dawson wins yet again
Ayr regular Tom Dawson’s superb record in this race continues as he scoops his 15th win courtesy of Good Hope. This would turn out to be his final taste of success in the Ayr Gold Cup, a full 34 years after saddling his first winner. This is a record that seems highly unlikely ever to be beaten, with the late David Nicholls by far the most successful in recent times with six wins between 2000 and 2010.
1891 – A dazzling display
The Duke of Montrose-owned Dazzle wins the Ayr Gold Cup for a third consecutive time, becoming the first horse ever to manage the feat. To this day, no other horse has managed to win the contest on more than two occasions and it is some time since any horse has managed even the double.
1907 – New Gold Cup location
In the early years, racing at Ayr took place at a course situated in Belleisle, now the site of the Seafield Golf Course. In 1907 though, the course moved to its current home on Whitletts Road. The biggest change to the race itself from the move saw the Gold Cup reduced in distance, down to six furlongs from over a mile.
Many claimed the decision was made to benefit the Duke of Montrose as his horse, Raeberry, stood a better chance over a shorter trip. Unfortunately for the Duke, this was not enough for Raeberry to secure the win with Charis ending up on top.
1967 – Friendly approach pays off
Legendary racing commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan, known as the ‘voice of racing’ enjoyed some success on the course at Ayr. One of the best horses he ever owned, Be Friendly, secured Ayr Gold Cup success in 1967. Patrons of the racecourse today will notice there is a bar named to commemorate the horse’s victory.
1975 – Last Scottish success
Perhaps surprisingly, this once all-Scottish affair has not seen a Scottish handler train the winner for several decades. The last winning horse to fly the white saltire was Nigel Angus’ Roman Warrior in 1975. It was the shortest of journeys for Roman Warrior to make with his training ground, Cree Lodge, located across the road from the racecourse. Coincidentally, Roman Warrior is the heaviest horse to win this race, doing so with a whopping 10 stone on his back.
As you may have noticed by now, Ayr has a habit of honouring special winners with some form of hospitality suite (!) and Roman Warrior is no exception. Today visitors to the course can eat at the Roman Warrior Restaurant situated within the Princess Royal Stand.
1992 – Too much gold demand
The intense interest in this race led organisers to create a consolation race for horses that did not quite make the cut. The sensibly named Ayr Silver Cup helped soften the blow for trainers and owners whose entries lacked a weight high enough to feature in the showpiece event. When even this race became too popular, the Ayr Bronze Cup was founded in 2009. Two overflow races for an even that currently supports 27 runners goes to show just how popular the Ayr Gold Cup is.
The introduction of the Silver Cup also caused a change in the schedule. The Gold Cup, traditionally run on a Friday, moved to Saturday with the Silver Cup filling the vacant spot.
2004 – Clyde handed group status
The six furlong Firth of Clyde Stakes enjoys a promotion from Listed status to Group 3. It has held this improved status ever since, meaning it is the only group race you will find in the whole of Scotland.
2008 – First Carson win
There are few races holding such prestige that fail to see either Lester Piggott or Willie Carson on the list of winning jockeys. These two all-time greats never did strike gold at Ayr but Willie’s grandson, William, managed to do so when riding Regal Parade in 2008.
2013 – Marvellous Murphy
Still only a teenager, Oisin Murphy enjoyed an afternoon of racing any veteran jockey would have savoured. The young Irishman rode four winners on Ayr Gold Cup day including the star of the show itself. The combined odds of the four winners totalled a huge 9,260/1. His three other winning races included the Ayrshire Handicap, Jordan Electrics Ltd Handicap and the Microtech Support Handicap.
2014 – Hunter stripped of cup
Sky Hunter claims victory in the Doonside Cup, on the final day of the Ayr Gold Cup Festival. The 9/4 favourite would eventually be stripped of his victory though after testing positive for a prohibited raceday substance, omeprazole. Hunter’s trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, was handed a £1,000 (that’ll teach the millionaire!) fine from the British Horseracing Authority due to a lack of regard to the usage of dose rate of the substance.
2017 – Forced cancellation
Ayr is no stranger to a bit of rain but torrential downpours in September are not a common sight. Unseasonably wet weather hit the course days prior to the Ayr Gold Cup meeting in 2017, forcing the cancellation of the entire meeting.
Haydock Park came to the rescue to spare the Gold Cup itself though, hosting the race just a week later with a reduced 17-runner capacity. The classy Irish-bred Donjuan Triumphant lived up to its name by coming home in front.
2017 – Fillies contest introduced
The Gold Cup Festival planned the introduction of a new race, the Arran Scottish Fillies’ Sprint Stakes. Open to filly and mares aged three and above, it is a Listed sprint contest over just five furlongs and 110 yards. The inaugural running of the event took place at Musselburgh in October due to the aforementioned waterlogging.
2018 – Bolt from the blue
Over the years, there have been an abundance of closely contested Ayr Gold Cup renewals but none where the horses could not be separated. This finally changed in 2018 as 5/1 favourite Son Of Rest and 28/1 outsider Baron Bolt crossed the line at exactly the same moment. With absolutely nothing to separate them, even with the aid of a precise photo finish, the Ayr Gold Cup witnessed its first ever dead heat.