Ayr foxed by mystery waterlogging that scuppered Gold Cup
As he surveyed the wreckage of the entire Ayr Gold Cup meeting, the racecourse's managing director David Brown was still at a loss to explain what had caused the loss of Scotland's richest Flat race and one of the season's biggest betting heats.
Saturday's card followed the fixture's first two days into oblivion when a patch of waterlogged ground around two and a half furlongs from home failed to improve sufficiently for racing to take place, despite a variety of attempts to clear the groundwater, including hovering a helicopter over the affected area.
On Thursday morning track officials had declared themselves "very confident" racing would take place on both the remaining days of the Western meeting, but less than 12 hours later Friday's meeting had been cancelled and Gold Cup Saturday fell the following morning.
Speculation arose on Friday that the stubborn waterlogging was linked to a collapsed drain that cost the track two meetings in 2016 and required remedial work, but Brown said the current problem was affecting a different stretch of the straight and that it was too early to determine why the entirety of such a valuable meeting had been lost.
Brown said: "Why there is that particular patch I don't know. We've had unprecedented rain this year, we've had seven inches of rain since August 14, so the water table is sitting high. On Wednesday night there was a further 17mm of rain and if there are any weak points that has probably exacerbated it.
"People speculate about many things. I couldn't tell you if there's an underlying drainage problem or not, all I can tell you is that at the two-and-a-half-furlong area there's an amount of water on the track that is preventing racing."
PJ McDonald, the northern jockeys' safety officer, who was due to ride leading fancy Donjuan Triumphant in the Gold Cup, said: "Last year there was a problem further down the track but I've never been aware of a problem there leading up to this meeting.
"Everybody is looking into it and trying to blame somebody but I think it's just one of those things. The weather screwed it up for us."
There was criticism of the way that Ayr communicated news on the prospects of racing, in particular the unscheduled inspection that led to Friday's meeting being cancelled late on Thursday evening.
Brown said: "We were hopeful as events were unfolding on Thursday and it was drying out. Everyone wanted to give it as much chance as possible. Nobody wanted to give this up without giving it every opportunity.
"But the northern course inspector has the right to make a judgement call and Chris Dennis came about 5pm.
"The timescale then changed and that became the catalyst for calling it off last night. Just as the professionals being there this morning was the catalyst for calling tomorrow off, rather than waiting for the inspection."
BHA chief operating officer Richard Wayman said: "The BHA has requested a report from the racecourse executive regarding the circumstances surrounding the last few days, including exactly what the issue with the track is, what has caused it, what procedures are in place to address the issues, their prospects of racing at other forthcoming fixtures and the communication around the fixture cancellations."
Richard Fahey, who had been due to saddle eight runners in the Gold Cup, said: "It's unfortunate but there's just a wet patch that wouldn't dry. They have to give it every opportunity. I saw it myself yesterday and today and I was disappointed it hadn't improved more.
"They tried everything but it looks an underlying problem there. It's a massive shame and I feel for everyone involved."
Brown would not speculate on the financial impact of losing the course's flagship Flat meeting, which was not insured. A crowd of 12,000 was expected on Saturday.
"The revenue aspect is important but much more important for me is the spectacle of the Ayr Gold Cup not taking place this year and the disappointed customers," he said.
"It's very disappointing financially but having Scotland's feature Flat meeting cancelled is just devastating."
Losing the meeting was also a blow to the sponsors and the sport's finances. William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams said: "We turned over £1 million on the Gold Cup alone last year and we couldn't be more disappointed at the loss of one of the most prestigious races in our sponsorship portfolio.
"It's a blow for racing as as a whole because turnover across the whole industry would have been huge and the loss to the levy will be significant."
Anyone with a ticket for one of the three days will receive a full refund and will also be allowed in free to Ayr on Saturday to watch racing from elsewhere.
The track's next meeting is scheduled for October 3 and Brown said: "I think we will race. The immediate challenge will be to look at the hurdle track for the last two meetings, we may switch to that. We will discuss it with the BHA."
The BHA said it had discussed options for rescheduling the Gold Cup meeting but that the condition of the track and forecast weather conditions made doing so at Ayr impractical. However, options are being explored for hosting the Gold Cup at another track.
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