Over the next couple of days as many as 81 horses will contest three races, all over the same three-quarters of a mile strip of Ayr's straight course. Commentators and punters alike will be trying to fathom the effect of the draw, and making bets based on decisions to exclude vast chunks of the runners as a consequence.
Is this really a prudent strategy and, if it is, where is the draw bias? Let's look to history to unearth some possible pointers...
With the Bronze Cup now offering five years of data, we'll begin with the 2009 renewals.
Bronze Cup Draws (first four home)
2013 - 27/15/18/20 (Middle to High) Soft
2012 - 10/14/11/15 (Middle) Heavy
2011 - 3/15/9/19 (Low to Middle) Good to Soft
2010 - 25/22/12/26 (High) Good
2009 - 4/2/1/7 (Low) Good
Silver Cup Draws (first four home)
2013 - 26/20/27/15 (High) Good to Soft
2012 - 20/13/24/22 (Middle to High) Heavy
2011 - 21/24/14/15 (Middle to High) Soft
2010 - 7/8/25/6 (Low) Good
2009 - 2/3/11/5 (Low) Good
Gold Cup Draws (first four home)
2013 - 19/18/22/16 (Middle) Good to Soft
2012 - 8/19/13/2 (Middle) Heavy
2011 - 12/16/9/15 (Middle) Soft
2010 - 17/24/8/11 (Middle to High) Good
2009 - 15/6/9/3 (Low) Good
So far, we have nothing but a pile of data. Bear with it, though, for within that numerical haystack may emerge a golden needle just yet. A couple of views of the data might prove instructive. Below are the draw positions of the first four home aggregated by year, and by going.
Ayr Cup Draws (first four home), by Year
2013 - 27/15/18/20/26/20/27/15/19/18/22/16
Average 20.25 (High)
2012 - 10/14/11/15/20/13/24/22/8/19/13/2
Average 14.25 (Middle)
2011 - 3/15/9/19/21/24/14/15/12/16/9/15
Average 14.33 (Middle)
2010 - 25/22/12/26/7/8/25/6/17/24/8/11
Average 15.92 (Middle)
2009 - 4/2/1/7/2/3/11/5/15/6/9/3
Average 5.67 (Low)
Ayr Cup Draws (first four home), by Going
Good - 27/15/18/20/26/20/27/15/19/18/22/16/4/2/1/7/2/3/11/5/15/6/9/3
Average 10.8 (Low to Middle)
Good to Soft - 26/20/27/15/19/18/22/16/3/15/9/19
Average 17.42 (Middle)
Soft - 27/15/18/20/21/24/14/15/12/16/9/15
Average 17.17 (Middle)
Heavy - 10/14/11/15/20/13/24/22/8/19/13/2
Average 14.25 (Middle)
Hmm, the plot thickens. Or, at least, the data densens. Looking at the year by year performance across the three races, we could say that low was strongly favoured in 2009, and high reasonably favoured in 2013. In between, horses came from all parts of the track to make the frame, leading to a 'Middle' average.
Now here's the thing. Although the Bronze Cup is run the day before the Silver and Gold Cups, it seems curious - and dare I say it, spurious? - to suggest that a draw bias can change in 27 hours, let alone within the space of 70 minutes.
That would be the conclusion arrived at by track bias fans when looking at the respective finishes of Silver and Gold Cups of the past five years, and it is logically unsound.
The reality is that, though there may be a slight middle to high bias, it is far more likely that PACE plays the core role in dictating which side of the draw is favoured. As such, attempts to definitively 'nail' the draw advantage to one side or the other - or the middle - are wide of the mark.
Rather, we need to understand where the early pace in the race is berthed. This is not true just for Ayr and its trio of precious metal Cups, but for almost any big field straight track event run almost anywhere.
(There are exceptions where drainage comes into play, but with developments in agricultural technology, track irrigation has been regulated far better than even three or four years ago. As such, a number of historical biases no longer remain, and those outmoded perceptions are expensive to 'fixed mind' punters).
At geegeez.co.uk, whenever new features are requested from Gold subscribers, draw analysis always crops up. There will never be more than a page dedicated to this, because I think it's hugely misleading. Low draws in Chester sprints, and inside draws at Pontefract, are where I'd begin and end my personal adherence to draw bias on turf tracks. And in both cases, I'd still want a horse with a front-running or prominent pace profile.
I'm not saying there aren't others, but I think it far more prudent to focus on where the fast horses are housed. Or, to use my preferred phrase, where the 'pockets of pace' are.
To understand this, we first need to look at the overall pace profile of the race to confirm there is a strong pace expected. At geegeez.co.uk, each runner is scored on its last four UK starts, as follows:
4 - Led, or pressed leader
3 - Prominent, close up, chased or tracked leaders
2 - Midfield, or in touch
1 - Behind, in rear, or held up
Thus a horse can have a total score between 4 (held up x 4) and 16 (led x 4). Horses with scores of 14+ are perennial pace pressers, whereas horses with scores of 4, 5 or 6 generally need a true gallop and luck in running.
[As a personal rule of thumb, a horse has to have an otherwise very compelling profile if it's a hold up type in a big field sprint, simply because so much has to go right for those types even if they're good enough to win.]
Here is the pace view for the Bronze Cup, sorted by score (i.e. 4-16)
We can see that there are ten horses with pace scores of 13+. This means it is likely to be a very fast run race: little more than one would expect for such a big field sprint in any case.
Next, we'll sort by draw, which will give us an indication as to whether there is an even distribution of the fast early horses, or if there is likely to be a skew to one area of the track. As we'll see, the picture is very far from clear:
This is as unclear a picture of pace as I've seen and, in my opinion it would be reckless to make anything remotely resembling a definitive judgement as to which side might be favoured. As close to an opinion as I have is that the lowest stalls - focused around the early dash of Cruise Tothelimit, Galvanize and Baron Run - could influence a move from middle draws to that side. That would bring in the likes of My Name Is Rio (stall 11) and perhaps even Ralphy Boy from 18.
Were the split to be as high as that, it could compromise the middle draws and leave the high draws marooned in a slower group, despite the presence of Mishaal and Searchlight in the bigger stall numbers.
Such flaky conjecture has no place in the fashioning of a moderately confident wager..!
Unless a horse emerges with a super solid profile, this is not a race I'd be playing with any more than 'action' stakes. And, as you can see from the below Instant Expert view (sorted on place, and by going), there's an equivalent lack of clarity in the profiles as well [click the images to enlarge them, by the way] :
If I've read things right, and there's absolutely every chance I have not(!), then I'd be leaning a single degree from vertical in the directions of Cruise Tothelimit, Jack Luey and Gold Beau. Fitz Flyer at a huge price may also be worth a second look. I'd be betting win only too, and prepared to wear it if that list contains the second, third, fourth and fifth (on which any sane bookmaker is paying out a place dividend).
Saturday's Silver and Gold Cups promise to be more divisive when it comes to using pace to inform a post position bias, so stay tuned for a further bulletin on that pair of races as well as some of the other TV fare. And might I close by suggesting a pin or a crystal ball for deciphering the Bronze Cup?!