A big weekend at Ayr and Newbury – our columnist looks ahead to the action and back on some of the talking points from the week.
I love the Ayr Western Meeting – it’s always one of the most entertaining weekends of the year.
There’s nowhere quite like the champagne lawn there on Gold Cup day. There’s probably about a third of the crowd who were at Doncaster last week for the Leger yet they make about as much noise. You get a proper Scottish welcome and I’m so disappointed not to be broadcasting from the track on Saturday.
TV protocols mean we can’t travel up but the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup will still be the centrepiece of our coverage.
Great Ambassador was my long-term fancy for the Wokingham and clearly he has a big chance here, but he’s drawn one and all the pace looks to be middle to high.
Bielsa is an obvious alternative but I’m going to take a chance with SUNDAY SOVEREIGN. He was back to winning ways at Chester last time and while officially two pounds wrong under a five-pound penalty he’s still potentially well handicapped on the pick of his previous form.
Tim Easterby is enjoying a wonderful season and it could be about to get even better.
I’m based down at Newbury, a track who do family fun days as well as anywhere. I know they have lots of entertainment lined up for Saturday culminating in the great Rick Astley performing live on stage.
Now I’m a big fan of his and my producer insists I’ll be able to interview him during our afternoon show. What’s not to like? He’s sold over 40 million records in 24 different countries and anyone who says he’s a one-hit wonder is talking nonsense. He’s had two number ones in the US – even Robbie Williams hasn’t managed that!
On the track I’m very interested to see my Royal Ascot nap of 2020 King Leonidas in action in the Dubai Duty Free Handicap at 3.25. He was sixth in the Jersey Stakes the last time we saw him and he could be interesting on his handicap debut from a mark of 102.
In the feature Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes I’m tempted to give DHABAB another chance. I’m sure Jason Weaver will be very keen on him – as he was before the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last time. Perhaps his stamina got stretched that day but a third place finish behind Native Trail looks all the stronger now since his National Stakes win last weekend.
The class horse on show is Al Aasy, who returns after a gelding operation in the Dubai Duty Free Legacy Cup. It will be fascinating to see how he runs for owners Shadwell Estate in the week of the alarming – but not surprising – news that they are to enormously cut their operation back.
News like this will always cause concern throughout the whole sport, the breeding and sales ranks included, and obviously it has a huge effect on people who work for Shadwell either directly – or for the trainers who are sent their horses.
Maybe if there is a positive some smaller players might get a chance in the sales rings this autumn whether buying yearlings from them or broodmares, giving other people access to bloodlines that might not previously have been possible.
And the good news is that the famous colours will still be seen in action on the racecourse as they target quality over quantity.
We’ll also be speaking to Michael Holding on the afternoon show in the week he hung up his microphone. He was one of the great sports broadcasters and is an absolute hero of mine on and off the cricket pitch.
It will be fascinating to get his thoughts on not only why he has decided now is the time to step away but also how racing can broaden it’s appeal and become more accessible to all.
There are few wiser sages on any subject than Michael Holding.
It’s also National Racehorse Week and it’s important on ITV we showcase the love for the most important participants in our sport. I’ve been moved and delighted to see all the interaction on social media this week as the trainers, up and down the land, open their doors to the public.
To see people getting up close and personal to their equine heroes has been special and I can’t wait to show the footage of Eveley and Mary Of Modena becoming firm friends at Michael Attwater’s yard. What a video that is.
I have to say a huge well done to Great British Racing, Richard Phillips, Chris Hughes and all who have helped pull the event together. Let’s hope – as I’m sure it will be – the Henry Cecil Open Weekend is a huge success in Newmarket too. These are all good examples of just how powerful racing can be when everyone pulls together.
Enjoy your weekend.