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Best Handicap Performances: Ayr Gold Cup
Ahead of the Ayr Gold Cup this weekend, Andrew Asquith takes a look back at the best handicap performances in recent years.
Last year’s winner of the Ayr Gold Cup, Brando, put up a handicap performance for the ages when defying joint top weight (the first top weight to win the race since Coastal Bluff in 1996), running to a Timeform rating of 124. Brando became the fourth winner of the Ayr Gold Cup for his trainer Kevin Ryan (Advanced in 2007, Our Jonathan in 2011, and Captain Ramius in 2012 were the others), just bettering Our Jonathan’s performance (ran to a Timeform rating of 123), who is the only other horse this century to break through the 120 barrier in Scotland’s most famous Flat race. Brando’s winning effort, which would have won him four of the previous five runnings of the Champions Sprint at Ascot, was the best performance of last season in a handicap in Britain and Ireland, 2 lb higher on Timeform ratings than Librisa Breeze’s win in the Challenge Cup at Ascot in October. The Challenge Cup runner-up Firmament produced the third-best handicap performance of the season in the Balmoral Handicap just two weeks later, his length and a half third to Yuften, giving the winner 7 lb, marginally superior to Spark Plug’s two and a quarter length success in the Cambridgeshire in September. Heartbreak City secured his place among the top five handicap performances in Britain and Ireland when landing a gamble by four lengths in Europe’s richest handicap, the Ebor at York.
A rejuvenated Hoof It finished third behind Brando last year, but his performance when winning the Stewards’ Cup in 2011 was one of the best seen by Timeform. In running to a Timeform rating of 125, Hoof It's effort was some way in advance of any other handicap performances on the Flat in Europe at the time, matching the figure achieved by Russian Revival when he won the 1999 Tote International at Ascot and that of Borderlescott when he was third in the 2008 Stewards' Cup. Hoof It carried top weight to victory, putting up a handicap display of epic proportions to make short work of his 26 rivals off an official mark of 111. The Michael Easterby-trained four-year-old made a mockery of his welter burden, always travelling strongly and having the race won fully a furlong from home. To find a better Timeform performance of 125 in a handicap means going back to the 'seventies, specifically to the top-class sprinter Roman Warrior, who ran to a Timeform rating of 132 when winning the Ayr Gold Cup in July 1975.