Honesty Fair to make it pay for Murtagh

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The Independent Online

The best way to approach the Shergar Cup at Ascot this afternoon is with a baffled shake of the head. Why anyone should feel the need to promote a decent afternoon's racing as a "team" event remains a mystery. Had it been anyone but Peter Savill, the chairman of the British Horseracing Board, who came up with the idea, they would surely have been sent away for a lie-down.

Quite simply, racing is about individual winning horses, not the country of origin of the person on top, and when you remember what the whiff of nationalism can do to English football supporters, you have to think it's all the better for it.

Still, if it makes Peter happy, so be it. For punters, meanwhile, there is at least the glimpse of an opportunity, since the strict 10-runner limit on the field size reduces the chance that their fancy will find trouble in running.

Since Ascot is also a course which takes some knowing, it might also pay to avoid some of the riders from the Rest of the World team, although – in another example of the Shergar Cup's odd little contradictions – Frankie Dettori, Craig Williams and Gerald Mosse can hardly be written off as Ascot rookies.

It should also be borne in mind that for all the prize money – almost £350,000 – on offer, and the grand race titles borrowed from the Breeders' Cup, this is a pretty average afternoon's racing by Ascot's normal standards.

Four of the six events are handicaps, another an auction stakes, while the Shergar Cup Sprint, for three-year-olds, may well be the softest £100,000 race of the entire season. When there is a shortage of obvious class, punters will always face a struggle.

That said, however, there are several favourites who demand to be opposed, most obviously the unreliable Nadour Al Bahr, who won over this course last time out, but has often looked fragile in a finish, and has yet to win over 12 furlongs.

The obvious alternative is Hambleden (next best 3.50), who started his run too late over course and distance last time out, and has the excellent Gerald Mosse to plot him a course today.

Vita Spericolata is another who may go off at too short a price, for while her victory in a Listed event at Chester last weekend was impressive, she was able to set the pace on a track which favours front-runners. Look instead to the mount of the excellent Johnny Murtagh, Honesty Fair (2.40), who finished fifth in the Stewards' Cup last Saturday from a draw in the middle, confirming that she is still in peak form after her victory in a handicap at Newmarket last month.

Five of the 10 runners in the opening handicap contested the William Hill Mile at Goodwood last time, but sixth place was the best any of them could manage, and this race is best avoided. Martin House (2.05) may offer some value, though nothing like the odds of 33-1 at which he won his only race to date, while Temple Way (3.15), second in last year's Northumberland Plate, may improve on this season's form now that the blinkers are back on.

For the best bet on the card, though, punters may have to wait until the final event, the Sprint. With a good pace all but assured thanks to the presence of Palanzo and Volata, PAN JAMMER (nap 4.25) may be able to reproduce his fifth place to Mozart – when giving the subsequent July Cup winner 6lb – in the Jersey Stakes. If he can, he must surely go close and the 9-1 available this morning with Stanley and the Tote looks tempting. Norihiro Yokoyama has drawn the ride, but while this is his first trip to Britain, he has over 1,000 winners to his name in Japan, and a straight six furlongs should not present any unexpected problems.

Away from Ascot, Nayef takes another step on the comeback trail in the Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock, but Inglenook (2.50) may deny him his first win as a three-year-old.

In Ireland tomorrow, Johannesburg, the Norfolk Stakes winner at Royal Ascot, heads a strong field for the Independent Waterford Wedgwood Phoenix Stakes, a Group One contest.

Stratford card, page 23

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