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Ayr Gold Cup report

An extraordinary week for Scotland culminated in an extraordinary day for jockey James Doyle at Ayr yesterday, as he steered Louis The Pious to victory in the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup to complete a treble on the biggest day on the Scottish flat racing calendar.

It was also another massive day for trainer David O’Meara, whose career continues to go from strength to strength, and for owner Frank Gillespie, who is having quite a remarkable season with just a handful of horses.

All week long, the place to be on the straight track at Ayr was alongside the stands side rail. All the evidence suggested that the fastest strip of ground on the sprint track was flush against the near rail.

That point was hammered home in the Ayr Silver Cup, the consolation race for the Gold Cup and run 70 minutes before the feature event, when the first three horses home emerged from the three highest stalls. The winner raced from stall 27 of 27, the runner-up from stall 26 and the third-placed horse from stall 25. That had to have been down to more than mere happenstance.

As a consequence, it was understandable that the majority of the riders in the Gold Cup wanted to come stands side. Doyle had last year’s runner-up Louis The Pious nicely away from stall 19, and he quickly tacked over towards the near side. Before they had gone a furlong, he had secured a position along the rail for himself and his horse, just behind the front rank. Doyle said afterwards that he didn’t do much, that trainer David O’Meara had done all the work, and, to an extent, he had a point. However, that manoeuvre in the first furlong of the race, the move to get his horse over to the stands rail, was crucial.

From that point, he never left the rail. Events conspired in his favour. At the three-furlong pole, the horse immediately in front of him, Racy, moved a little to his left, and Doyle moved his horse through the resultant gap. Then on the run to the furlong pole, the leader on the near side Heaven’s Guest moved off the rail, and Doyle exploded.

He asked his horse for maximum effort and Louis The Pious delivered. He burst through the gap between the leader and the rail, hit the front just inside the furlong pole and, still limpet-like to the stands-side rail, ran all the way to the line to put almost three lengths between himself and his closest pursuer by the time he reached the winning post, going one better than he did in the race last year.

“It looks like I won by too far,” joked Doyle afterwards. “They may not be very happy.”

On the contrary, they were very happy. Trainer O’Meara and owner Gillespie basked in the success in the winner’s enclosure and in the Scottish sunshine. It was the second time this season that Louis The Pious had landed a big handicap for the pair, having landed the Buckingham Palace Handicap at Royal Ascot in June.

The Holy Roman Emperor gelding had been beaten three times since then, but Fran Berry, who rode him on his previous run at Ascot, suggested to O’Meara that the horse might improve for the fitting of a visor. So the trainer duly fitted a visor, and the horse duly improved.

“He was drawn well again this year,” said O’Meara, “and James gave him a lovely ride. There isn’t really any real pattern to him, it’s just that these big-field handicaps tend to bring out the best in him.”

However it ends over the next few weeks, 2014 will go down as a landmark season for O’Meara. As well as yesterday’s win, and Louis The Pious’ Royal Ascot win, he also won the Great St Wilfrid Handicap at Ripon with Out Do – who also wore a visor for the first time that day – he won the EBF Premier Handicap at The Curragh last Sunday with Watchable, and he has won four on the bounce with Custom Cut, two listed races and two Group 3 races. On top of all that, he landed the first Group 1 race of his career with G Force in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock just two weeks ago.

And it has been some week for Donegal native Frank Gillespie, now living in Manchester. Gillespie owns just six horses. Eight days ago he was at Leopardstown to see his Dante and Prix du Jockey Club winner The Grey Gatsby land the Group 1 Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, and he confirmed yesterday that the plan is for the son of Mastercraftsman to stay in training next year as a four-year-old. It’s the stuff of dreams.

Doyle got off the mark in the opening race on the day, the one-mile nursery, on the Richard Hannon-trained Power Play, while he rode the second leg of his treble on Huntsmans Close in the Ayr Silver Cup. O’Meara himself completed a double when the Daniel Tudhope-ridden Earth Drummer landed the seven-furlong handicap later in the day, while jockey Graham Lee also had a double via the Ann Duffield-trained Dark Reckoning in the Group 3 Firth of Clyde Stakes and the Saeed Bin Suroor-trained Sky Hunter in the Listed Doonside Cup.

© The Sunday Times, 21st September 2014