It’s difficult to believe that Growl hasn’t won since he won a listed race at Doncaster in November 2016. That’s 22 months and 16 runs ago.
He was rated 114 then and, rated 6lb higher than his highest-rated rival in that Doncaster race, he was sent off the 3.0 favourite, and he got home by just a nose from Aeolus.
On his previous run, Richard Fahey’s horse had finished second to The Tin Man in the Group 1 British Champions Sprint Stakes on Champions’ Day at Ascot. On his subsequent run he went to Hong Kong to compete in the Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin. And he maintained his prominence in exalted company last year: the Duke of York Stakes, the Diamond Jubilee (where he unseated at the start), the July Cup (in which he finished sixth, less than three lengths behind the winner Harry Angel), the Haydock Sprint Cup.
This year, his handicap rating has been lowered, as have his sights. He has come down to a mark of 99, but he has shaped in his last four runs as if there could be a big handicap in him off that mark.
At York in July, he did well to finish fourth in the Sky Bet Dash, racing in rear early on and towards the near side in a race in which those who raced prominently and on the far side were probably at a significant advantage. On his third last run, he ran a big race to take third place in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood, finishing off his race well after getting checked at a crucial stage of the race.
On his penultimate run, he finished third in the Great St Wilfrid at Ripon, again finishing well and just failing to catch Dakota Gold in the ‘race’ on the far side. And last time, in a five-and-a-half-furlong handicap at Chester, he had to wait for racing room around the home turn and he had to make his ground wide, and he just failed to catch Bossipop, who made all in a race that was run over a trip that was shorter than Growl’s optimum.
The Oasis Dream gelding should be happier back over six furlongs on Saturday. And the Ayr Gold Cup’s six furlongs is usually a testing six furlongs, run, as it invariably is, at a fast pace and often on easy ground, as it will be on Saturday.
The handicapper has left Growl on his mark of 99, which is 15lb lower than his peak and 5lb lower than the mark on which he started off this season. That is a mark of which there could be a big handicap in him.
He goes well on soft ground, and he goes well at Ayr. He finished second to subsequent Group 1 winner Brando in the Ayr Gold Cup two years ago, racing off a mark of 101. He is 2lb lower today.
If there is a future Group 1 winner in this year’s renewal, it is probably Son Of Rest.
Fozzy Stack’s horse is almost a Group 1 winner already. He ran a big race in the Group 1 Derrinstown Stud Flying Five at The Curragh on Sunday, finishing off his race really well and getting up to take second place, just a half a length behind Havana Grey.
The handicapper raised him by 10lb for that run but, because the Ayr Gold Cup is a (very) early-closing race, he gets to race on Saturday off his old mark of 101. He is 10lb well-in. He has a massive chance.
That said, his chance, and the degree to which he is well in is factored into his odds.
There are lots of positives. He is progressive and he handles soft ground well and Chris Hayes is riding out of his skin. And he should go well over the distance. Admittedly, the three best runs of his life have been over five furlongs at The Curragh, but he has run over six and even seven furlongs, and he was beaten just a neck in a listed race at Navan last October over six furlongs.
He has a favourite’s chance, but he is short, he has to travel overseas for the first time in his life, and this comes up just six days after he ran such a big race on Sunday.
The field is full of dangers. Gunmetal was impressive in winning the Great St Wilfrid last time, a race that has been a good pointer to the Ayr Gold Cup in the recent past. Flying Pursuit won a competitive handicap at York in July and ran a good race in the Great St Wilfrid last time, finishing sixth overall but second on the near side behind Gunmetal, with home he is 7lb better off. Muntadab and Major Jumbo and Summerghand and Tommy Taylor could all run well, but it could be Growl’s day.