Racing: Ascot add sweetener to Shergar Cup day

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The Independent Online

Ascot will look a little different this weekend, physically and in a human sense. The old lady is not at her best at the moment, great acres of earth scarring among the foremost, and prettiest, racecourses in the world.

Ascot will look a little different this weekend, physically and in a human sense. The old lady is not at her best at the moment, great acres of earth scarring among the foremost, and prettiest, racecourses in the world.

Yet despite the ugliness, a by-product of the Ascot redevelopment, the course executive is expecting a rather plump crowd on Saturday for the fifth running of the Shergar Cup.

Pre-sales are up by 40 per cent on last year's meeting and an audience of over 20,000 is predicted. The composition of the gathering might give a clue to these numbers. The dominating figure at the weekend might not be the male racing bore, with badges trailing from his binoculars, but someone rather younger and of a different sex.

The Sugababes will be performing after racing in front of those who may not have arrived with the turf as the principal reason for their visit. You only have to do the math. Concert prices cost fortunes, accompanied 16-year-olds and under on Saturday will get in free.

The Ascot rationale is that if even only a small proportion of those attending for the music actually enjoy the sports as well then it will have been an exercise worthwhile.

There is attraction also in the racing team managers, respectively Andy Townsend and Shane Warne as Great Britain & Ireland take on the Rest of the World for the Shergar Cup.

It may be that the domestic team is named the wrong way round. Four of the six representatives are Irish, Kieren Fallon, Mick Kinane, Johnny Murtagh and Jamie Spencer, joining forces with Kevin Darley and Darryll Holland.

Perhaps the greatest weakness to the Shergar Cup is that the turf does not lend itself to a team format. Beyond the alliance between trainer, jockey and horse, there is not much scope for teamwork outside pacemakers doing a naughty.

The Shergar Cup's strength is that the competition brings in riders we would otherwise not see, under the banner of the Rest of the World contingent.

Frankie Dettori has been donated for the day to join Japan's Yutaka Take, the leading Australian rider Damien Oliver and Gerald Mossé, the Frenchman who does most of his work in Hong Kong. Less well known, in these islands are Weichong Marwing, the top South African jockey who won two races on the Dubai World Cup card in the spring, and Dario Vargiu, the new Dettori after a flying season in Italy during which he won the Italian Derby on Groom Tesse. These are his first British rides.

The draw for horses takes place tomorrow, a bit of Americana for a card which is far removed from the old pomp and circumstance of Ascot. Heaven knows what the rolled-up-brolly brigade will do when they come across soccer masterclasses on the lawn and a jockeys' autograph-signing session.

Newmarket have their own stab at jazzy this month with the second running of a race confined to greys. The drum is already banging at Headquarters, where officials claim they may be on course for a world record field of greys, even if they have no clue what the record is. "If we were to get close to 20 runners, we might put out a claim to a world record and see if any course around the world challenges it," Lisa Hancock, Newmarket's managing director, said.

It appears, however, we are not yet out of the backwoods and on to the plains of modern thinking. The evening before the greys, Newmarket stages a race of similar conditions for all other shades of horse, as instructed by the British Horseracing Board. Restrictive sales races for hundreds of thousands of pounds are tolerated, but a £15,000 runaround for greys brings in the lack of thought police.

Results, page 47

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