Musselburgh have high hopes for flat season despite Edinburgh Cup loss

Musselburgh Racecourse chief Bill Farnsworth is looking forward to the start of the flat season. Pic: TSPL
Musselburgh Racecourse chief Bill Farnsworth is looking forward to the start of the flat season. Pic: TSPL
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Musselburgh will be minus one of their marquee races this year as the Edinburgh Cup is no more.

The £100,000 stamina test for second-season stayers has seen a host of classy winners since its inception eight years ago. Indeed the 2016 hero – Dal Harraild – lines up for the £750,000 Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan this weekend.

So it is no surprise that it became a leading trial for the Queen’s Vase, the main stamina test for three-year-olds at Royal Ascot and was adopted officially as such by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). However, the cup has become a victim of Musselburgh having their funding from the Horserace Levy Board cut this year.

It has always been run at on the first Saturday in June, which dovetails with Epsom Derby day, but Musselburgh were struggling to keep the prize money level up and a lack of live TV coverage on that day did not help.

A switch to the following Saturday when the track does have TV coverage was not feasible as it meant it would be run just 11 days before the Royal Ascot race and thus far too close to the royal meeting to attract top-class runners and thereby justify the hefty prize money tag.

“It was a difficult situation as both we and Newbury racecourse lost out through a quirk when the Levy Board changed their funding model,” said Bill Farnsworth. “We talked to the BHA at length and they obviously want to keep the race in the overall programme now as it has become an important stepping stone to the royal meeting.

“The fact that there are only four Saturdays in June this year did not help either, so eventually we had to let the race go.”

It will now be run at Doncaster on the first Saturday in June, but under another name after the BHA and the Yorkshire track came to a special agreement.

Musselburgh are unlikely to get the race back in its current successful format, but Farnsworth is hopeful of being able to institute another “Edinburgh Cup” at some stage in the future.

“We like providing staying races for the younger horses and try to map out an annual programme that does them justice,so you never know,” said Farnsworth. “But there is always a silver lining.

“Edinburgh Gin have been sponsoring the Edinburgh Cup and were disappointed, but we have managed to switch fixtures and they are now backing the Scottish Sprint Cup the following week.

“Our contract with bookmakers William Hill to sponsor the big sprint had ended, so we have simply switched the Stobo Castle Ladies day to June 2 and Edinburgh Gin take over the sponsorship of the Scottish Sprint Cup the following week when they will benefit from live terrestrial TV coverage.”

Meanwhile, Musselburgh start their summer flat season with a £200,000 prize pot tomorrow when the highlight on the first of 16 race days is the £100,000 Totepool Queen’s Cup for older staying horses.

Tomorrow’s meeting features live on ITV and the new season will see total prize money kept at the 2017 of £1.25m despite the cut in central funding. Farnsworth added: “Thanks to Totepool, who are sponsoring the whole card, we can get the new season off to a flyer, despite everything which has been happening behind the scenes here in recent weeks.”

Time to Study won the Edinburgh Cup last year and it would be perhaps fitting if he was to make a successful return to action in the Totepool Queen’s Cup (3.35).

The four-year-old held on well to score in a photo finish and justify favouritism here last June and developed into a useful stayer. He won at Doncaster and Newbury, but failed to handle the extreme distance of the Cersarewitch at Newmarket.

He weakened only in the final quarter of a mile there though and his victories in the second half of last term were both gained over this 14 furlong trip.

He is closely related to six winners, including at Group One and Group Three level in France and America and I expect him to continue on the upgrade this term.

His trainer Mark Johnston is a great supporter of Musselburgh and can initiate a double with Book of Dreams in the Totesport.com Royal Mile (3.00).

The three-year-old made a successful debut at Nottingham last August and was then runner-up at Beverley and Carlisle when stepped up to 7F. He was far from disgraced afterwards in competitive events at Chester and York too.

The gelding has clearly thrived through the winter and made a successful reappearance over a mile on the all-weather at Chelmsford last month. He can make that fitness tell here.

Alpha Delphini was backward as a youngster and did mot score until a four-year-old, but he has added another six victories to his CV since then, including two on this track and he can take the Totecsoop6 Borderlescott Sprint Trophy (2.25)

A half-brother to three winners, including top sprinter Tangerine Trees, he ended last term with victories at Beverley and over this course and distance. He has won on more than one occasion after a break, so clearly goes well fresh.

Queen’s Sargent showed promise last term when runner-up on this track in July and occupied the same position later in a competitive nursery at York, going down only in a photo-finish.

The grey was then a close up eighth in a big field for a valuable sales race at Doncaster and looks to have an ideal opportunity to break his duck in the Totepool Happy Easter Maiden Stakes (5.20).

Selections: 2.25 Alpha Delphini; 3.00 Book of Dreams; 3.35 Time to Study; 5.20 Queen’s Sargent.