Bielsa nets Ayr Gold Cup victory

KEVIN STOTT has already enjoyed many special days in his burgeoning career in the saddle – including a memorable Royal Ascot double on Hello Youmzain and Hey Jonesy.

Thirsk-based Kevin Stott celebrates Bielsa's win in the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup for Hambleton trainer Kevin Ryan and King Power Racing.

Yet even this breakthrough day behind closed doors in June 2020 struggles to compare with the significance of the Thirsk rider’s inspired ride and win aboard Bielsa in the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup.

Not only had his mother Charlotte and family flown from his native Denmark to watch the race as Covid travel restrictions ease, but Stott was providing Hambleton trainer Kevin Ryan with a fifth victory in the historic six-furlong handicap.

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And both Stott and Ryan had to plot a tactical masterpiece to land the race that would have been much admired by the victorious jockey’s footballing idol Sir Alex Ferguson.

Thirsk-based Kevin Stott celebrates Bielsa's win in the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup for Hambleton trainer Kevin Ryan and King Power Racing.

It came after Bielsa – named after Leeds United’s charismatic head coach Marcelo Bielsa – appeared to have been drawn unfavourably in stall 25 on the stands side rail.

By way of contrast, Bielsa’s main rivals, including well-backed race favourite Great Ambassador, the eventual runner-up, was drawn one on the far side of the track where horses had prospered in previous races. Yet this did not deter Stott, who missed Royal Ascot this summer with an ankle injury.

“To be fair, it was more Kevin Ryan than me,” the victorious jockey told The Yorkhire Post. “We decided to stick to the rail all the way, rather than race with the others in the centre, as it was a fresh strip of ground.”

Nevertheless, it still required considerable race acumen on Stott’s part to judge the pace correctly while racing in solitary isolation.

Thirsk-based Kevin Stott celebrates Bielsa's win in the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup for Hambleton trainer Kevin Ryan and King Power Racing.

“It’s hard to judge. I knew I wasn’t in front at the four furlong pole – but I also knew that I didn’t want to be leading at that point,” explained the rider whose partner Megan Nicholls was unplaced on the aforementioned Hey Jonesy.

“I looked over just before the line to see if I was in front – and, luckily enough, I was. That’s when I let out a big shriek at the crowd. It meant a lot to me – it’s a race that is so hard to win that it may take me another 20 years to ride another Ayr Gold Cup winner. With lockdown, I haven’t been able to see my family. And to win another Ayr Gold Cup for Kevin Ryan is also very special.”

Ryan’s training operation in North Yorkshire continues to excel – Glass Slippers won at the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last November while Emaraaty Ana took Group One honours in the Haydock Sprint Cup a fortnight ago.

His daughter Amy, a former champion apprentice, rides Bielsa on the gallops and the family have always targeted Ayr’s signature Flat race since Advanced won in 2007.

Though not a trainer to pick favourites, Ryan is particularly proud of the 2012 triumph of Captain Ramius because he was ridden by his great friend Pat Smullen, who lost his battle with cancer exactly a year ago.

And while Stott’s footballing loyalties rest with Manchester United following an unsuccessful schoolboy trial with Tottenham Hotspur, Ryan, an adopted Yorkshireman, is a Leeds United fan.

He dashed from Ayr on Friday night to St James’ Park to watch Leeds United and Newcastle United fight out a 1-1 draw before returning to Scotland to oversee his Ayr runners on Saturday.

Originally owned and named by Highbank Stud, the racehorse Bielsa was subsequently sold to King Power Racing – part of the sporting operation who own Leicester City.

And while their retained rider is former champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa, it is Stott’s good fortune, and luck, that he’s been in the saddle for all five of Bielsa’s wins on the turf as connections consider more illustrious races.

“You try and identify an Ayr Gold Cup horse at the start of the season, but it’s so difficult and it’s all down to Kevin (Ryan) and the team,” added Stott.

“It was a huge win – definitely up there in the top five of my career because of my family and how Kevin targets the race.

“Away from Ascot, it is probably my biggest win. If it had been for another trainer, or horse I hadn’t ridden before, I don’t think it would have meant so much. It’s right up there. And it’s good to give Leeds United a reason to celebrate.”