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Great Ambassador leads Walker’s Ayr raid

Great Ambassador and Popmaster give Ed Walker a formidable hand in the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup.

The trainer of top-class sprinter Starman is excited at the prospect of firing a twin assault on one of the most prestigious sprint handicaps of the season, with the hat-trick seeking Great Ambassador clear at the head of the market.

A close-up third in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood earlier in the season, the four-year-old has since impressed in handicap company at Newmarket and then in the Listed Garrowby Stakes at York – a victory which earned him a 5lb penalty for Saturday’s assignment.

Walker said: “We’ve targeted Great Ambassador at a few of these big races this year, and it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another.

Great Ambassador in the York winner's enclosure
Great Ambassador in the York winner’s enclosure (PA)

“We’re under no illusions how much luck is required, and he’s actually a pound wrong at the weights. He went up 4lb for winning at York, but carries a 5lb penalty.

“Anyway, I hope this will be his last run in a handicap. He’s in good form, so let’s hope he can pull it off.”

Great Ambassador has already gone up more than a stone in the weights since joining Walker from Ralph Beckett’s yard – and the Lambourn handler admits he has been surprised by how much he has improved this year.

“I never really thought he’d develop into such a good sprinter – but he’s got bags of speed, and I don’t think we’ve got to the bottom of him yet,” Walker added.

“Hopefully he’s got a great chance in what is a wide-open and competitive race.”

Popmaster is an interesting second string to Walker’s bow, turning out a fortnight after an impressive win at Ascot under Ryan Moore.

Hollie Doyle takes over in the saddle, while the trainer hopes the application of blinkers will bring about further progress.

Walker said: “Ryan’s advice after at Ascot was that he wasn’t doing much in front, and putting the blinkers on was actually something I’d toyed around with at home. I think it will really help.

“He’s a good horse, Popmaster – and while I think he’ll be better again next year, I’m really looking forward to seeing him run.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run a really good race.”

Commanche Falls after wining the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood
Commanche Falls after wining the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood (John Walton/PA)

Michael Dods has been saving Commanche Falls for this race since his Stewards’ Cup success in late July.

The Darlington-based trainer is hoping for rain in Scotland to give his charge the best possible chance of claiming a fifth victory in seven starts this season.

“We just thought we’d give him a break after the Stewards’ Cup because he’d had a few hard races,” said Dods.

“He’s in good form. Connor (Beasley) rode him on Wednesday and was very pleased with him.

“Any rain they get would help. If he doesn’t do anything else this year he’s had a good season.”

Dods also saddles outsider Pendleton, of whom he added: “He’s a good horse, he just needs a bit of juice in the ground.

“He was second at Ascot and won at York on his first couple of runs this year and just got completely bogged down in the ground in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot and didn’t show his form.

“At York last time, the ground was just plenty quick enough for him.

“He’s in good form, but he would want rain.”

Starman heading for Ascot – if weather stays dry

Ed Walker hopes the weather is kind at Ascot next month to give Starman a chance to atone for his agonising defeat in Haydock’s Unibet Sprint Cup.

The Lambourn trainer admitted “it was a tough one to take” – but was still proud of his horse, who went within a head last weekend of adding to his impressive victory in the July Cup.

All roads therefore lead to Ascot for the Qipco British Champions Sprint on October 16 – as long as the ground is not too demanding. Starman could not handle the testing conditions in 2020, and was well-beaten in the six-furlong showpiece behind Glen Shiel.

“We’re all licking our wounds a bit,” said Walker, reflecting on Starman’s near miss at Haydock.

“It was a tough one to take – he ran a huge race but unfortunately he didn’t quite get rolling in time to peg back Emaraaty Ana, who is in the form of his life.

“I don’t think he lost anything in defeat – another stride, and he was in front.

“If someone could guarantee me good ground I’d say Ascot would be a certainty. I just don’t want it to be bad ground.

“We’d happily run on good to soft, and in anything apart from heavy ground. We just need a bit of luck with the weather.”

After the acute disappointment of Starman’s defeat, Walker enjoyed success with two more talented sprinters last weekend, Great Ambassador and Popmaster.

Great Ambassador took the Listed Garrowby Stakes at York, which Starman won in 2020, while Popmaster was successful in a six-furlong handicap at Ascot.

The pair could clash in the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup on September 18.

“Great Ambassador was awesome,” said the Lambourn trainer.

“We were quite confident going into it that the race would really suit him – I know it seems madness to get a penalty going into the Ayr Gold Cup, but it just felt like the right race in the right conditions. I think we justified going there.

“We’ll see how he is, and the Gold Cup is still very much his target. He just needs to tell us he’s in cracking form. He seems to have come out of the race very well.

“If Popmaster gets into the Gold Cup, he’ll go.

“He won’t go for a consolation. He’s a sprinter going places, and I think he’ll have a good year next year.”