Ground only worry for Nicholls' Gold Cup team
IN RECENT years one man more than any other has made a name for himself by targeting the John Smith's Ayr Gold Cup - David Nicholls.
The former jockey has built his training career around sprint handicappers and the Ayr showpiece in particular, winning four out of five renewals between 2000 and 2004.
As usual, he has multiple entries this year with Great St Wilfrid one-two Tajneed and Valery Borzov heading up his team.
But Nicholls is worried about the very testing conditions for all his runners.
He said: "Conditions deteriorated here overnight with a fair bit more rain. It's as heavy as I've ever seen it at Ayr, but all mine are in good order and we've got to take our chance in one of the highlights of the season.
"Mine are all fit and well. Valery Borzov goes there in good form and I'm hopeful he'll handle the conditions.
"Tajneed was a bit lucky to win at Ripon because if the other horse had enjoyed a clear run he might well have won. That said, he's a lightly-raced horse with scope for further improvement.
"Indian Trail is sadly out of form and hasn't shown a sign of life in recent starts. I think we'll change the tactics on him, and ride him more forward.
"Northern Fling, Regal Parade and Turnkey are all capable sprinters who have it in them to win a big handicap. Whether it will be tomorrow remains to be seen. You'll need a horse that can handletesting conditions and stay the trip well."
Karl Burke is another with more than one chance and he saddles ante-post gamble Confuchias, as well as Aahayson and Raptor.
"Aahayson won the Cammidge Trophy and runs best fresh," said Burke.
"I've given him a break and he's done a lot of work at home, but I'm concerned there's not a lot of pace among those drawn low.
"Confuchias has a great chance on his best form in the heavy and ran great from a poor draw in the Wilfrid at Ripon.
"Raptor finished fourth in the Lincoln last year and is more of a miler. If it turned into a real slog he could surprise a few, as he'll be staying on at the end."
Hogmaneigh won a thrilling renewal of the Portland last week at Doncaster and despite having to carry a 5lb penalty he will have plenty of supporters.
"This horse has been great for me and helped keep me in the public eye," said his young jockey Saleem Golam.
"He's won a race on Derby day at Epsom and St Leger day at Doncaster so he seems to like the big occasion.
"I've won the Silver Cup before on Geojimali so to win the big one would be great."
Just edged out in the Portland was Jim Goldie's veteran River Falcon, who crept into the handicap in the last position. Goldie also runs Dhaular Dhar.
"He was the last one to make the cut and I'm open-minded about his draw in two," said Goldie.
"Because he's a hold-up horse it's tempting to think low is best, but I've thought that before and been proved wrong.
"River Falcon should run a big race and Dhaular Dhar has stamina as his trump card. He wants seven and will be finishing when some of them are getting tired."
The last two winners of the race are in the line-up in the shape of Richard Fahey's Fonthill Road and Kevin Ryan's Advanced.
And while jockey Neil Callan was suspended for last year's race, he is hoping lightning can strike twice with Advanced.
It was great to see him win it last year but obviously I was disappointed not to be on him," said Callan.
"This year we are on the opposite side (three) to where he was 12 months ago but I don't suppose we'll have an idea where it is best to be until after the Silver Cup.
"Our horse has been trained for this race all year. He's been running in Group and Listed races and running well in them.
"Also he's a bit lower in the weights than he was last year so we are hopeful that he will run another big race."
Fahey isunder no illusions as to the challenge facing Fonthill Road.
"He's got a stiff task. He was a short-head second off 100 in 2005, won it off 97 in 2006 and was fifth off 100 last year," said Fahey.
"He's off 104 tomorrow which is why we are taking 5lb off with Freddie (Tylicki)."