A race meeting for all the world

Royal Ascot: South African invader confirms wider appeal of a very British four days. Sue Montgomery reports
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The Independent Online
Royal Ascot, with all its pomp, protocol and eccentric hats, may appear a quintessential bastion of Britishness, but racing is a sport increasingly without frontiers and this week's meeting will have a ground- breaking international flavour. The usual clutch of contenders from France and Ireland and the normal cosmopolitan ambience in the weighing-room will be backed up by the first equine challenge from South Africa for nearly half a century.

On Tuesday, in the Prince of Wales' Stakes, a colt called London News will become the first South African horse to tread Ascot's hallowed turf since 1948. His participation is the second stage of a plan by his owners, Laurie and Jean Jaffee, to put the flag of the Rainbow Nation on the world racing map, the first phase having worked a treat when their giant chestnut smashed the 10-furlong course record in winning the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin, Hong Kong in April.

Globetrotting South African jockeys are unremarkable - Michael Roberts was champion here five years ago - but for horses it has been different. They have been confined within their borders for decades to prevent the spread of the deadly African Horse Sickness, but stringent policing has eradicated it from certain areas and London News is the first Cape crusader to take advantage.

Gambut, his predecessor at Ascot, was a champion sprinter in his native land, but took five arduous days to get to England by air and sea and could finish only eighth to Delirium in the Cork and Orrery Stakes.

The Jaffees are hoping for better things from their champion, six times a Grade One winner back home, and Barry Hills, who has had charge of London News since he arrived in Britain five weeks ago, has warned that the four- year-old, who stands 17 hands high, should not be underestimated.

The Lambourn-based trainer said: "He is an imposing horse with excellent limbs. Watching the films of his races he's put up some tremendous performances and I'm sure he'll run a very good race indeed. How good he is compared with the best over here I don't know, but the handicapper thinks his rating is about 116, so some of the leading hopes will have to run up to their best to beat him.

"He is a strong galloper, seems to be a professional in every department, the sort of horse who is anxious to help his jockey, and whatever the ground is, it will not bother him. "

London News' Hong Kong exploits, where he gave 2lb and a length beating to Annus Mirabilis (a consistent yardstick and narrow loser at Ascot last year), were broadcast live to an exultant Cape Town TV audience, as will be his bid for glory on the bigger stage on Tuesday, when he will be reunited with his compatriot Douglas Whyte. The jockey, who has yet to compete at Ascot but familiarised himself with a ride round the track on a pony 13 days ago, said: "So much depended on London News doing well in Hong Kong, as our horses had been isolated for so long. His win put South African racing so far forward it is hard to imagine, and to be even competing at Royal Ascot is another huge step up the ladder. "

London News will face formidable opposition from two fillies, the classy, elegant Bosra Sham and tough Irish raider Dance Design. The Group Two contest will be one of the highlights of a four-day feast at the only meeting in the world to include 15 Pattern races.

The centrepiece of the week, during which prize money of more than pounds 2m will be on offer, is the Gold Cup, contested over two and a half miles on Thursday. The special talents of genuine, high-class stayers invariably attract the biggest audience (the 76,316 who watched Classic Cliche beat Double Trigger 12 months ago made up the biggest racing crowd of the year) and often the best entertainment of the meeting. Spice will be added by the participation of Camp David, bidding to become the first German-trained winner in Britain since Star Appeal won the Eclipse Stakes 22 years ago, but the tough, progressive Persian Punch can keep the prize at home.

Five individual Guineas winners are due to contest the two other Group One races, the St James' Palace Stakes for colts on Tuesday, when Daylami can take the colts' honours back to France (with a respectful eye cast towards Poteen, who celebrated his third birthday only a week ago and has the scope to improve on his Newmarket 2,000 third) and Wednesday's Coronation Stakes for fillies, in which Sleepytime is preferred.

The King's Stand Stakes on Friday no longer has championship status, but should provide a platform for Royal Applause to further his claims as the season's leading sprinter, at the expense of Almaty, the mount of another first-time Royal Ascot visitor, the American Gary Stevens.

Montgomery's tips

Tuesday: 2.30 Wixim 3.05 Bosra Sham (nap) 3.45 Daylami 4.20 Desert Prince 4.55 Tayseer (nb) 5.30 Sea Freedom

Wednesday: 2.30 Captain Collins 3.05 Daunting Lady 3.45 Sleepytime (nap) 4.20 Dancing Image (nb) 4.55 Street General 5.30 Humourless

Thursday: 2.30 Crown of Light (nb) 3.05 Bodyguard 3.45 Persian Punch 4.20 Burden of Proof 4.55 Cape Verdi (nap) 5.30 Conon Falls

Friday: 2.30 Hopping Higgins 3.05 Dushyantor 3.45 Oggi 4.20 Royal Applause (nap) 4.55 Casey Tibbs 5.30 Canon Can (nb)