Bread and a circus is the order at Ascot on the day racing dares to be different. The Shergar Cup, the annual jockeys' team tournament, will draw double the usual crowd to the Berkshire track for what would be an ordinary Saturday using the quality of racing as a yardstick.
For the occasion not only offers a novelty Great Britain and Ireland v the Rest of the World overlay on the equine side of things, but an all-sports extravaganza to kick off the festivities in the morning - David Platt and Pat Cash, nominal squad leaders, plus some top rugby stars will be hosting kids' masterclasses - and a pop concert in the evening.
Since inheriting the gig three years ago Ascot, not for the first time under the regime of Douglas Erskine-Crum and his bright crew, has turned the concept around from flop to fun. The bums on seats flock in; the jockeys have a whale of a time; and no owner will go home empty-handed.
Even though the prize money is down on previous years as a result of a pre-emptive strike by the course against future Levy Board cuts, it is still generous (£260,000 in total) and runs down to last place in each race. There are also valuable awards for trainers and for stable staff. Frankie Dettori, at his favourite course, captains the Rest of the World team under the management of Michael Roberts; with Pat Eddery, in his final season, and Jason Weaver their Great Britain and Ireland equivalents.
The home team were installed as odds-on favourites after the horse selection process and one of the most interesting aspects of the day will be seeing how the visitors, apart from Dettori less than regulars in these parts, cope with Ascot's demands.
Shane Dye, the second most successful rider ever to emerge from the Antipodes and now cutting a dash in Hong Kong, will be riding for the first time in Europe. The New Zealander is world class, but wholly aware of the difficulties of riding in an alien environment.
"A good rider can make it anywhere in the world," he said. "Put me anywhere and I wouldn't worry. Even at somewhere like Happy Valley, which is a horror when you first go there, not just the track itself but the environment. But I adapted; it's my job. But to come somewhere just for one day is almost impossible.
"Having said that, though, I'll enjoy Ascot. I'm a thinking type of jockey and a big track like this will give me time to ride a race. I won't be familiar with the horses and I may look different - I sit short and high, Frankie is low and crouches - but whatever the style there's something that makes a horse run."
Dye, 36, was not at the back of the queue when self-confidence was handed out, as Dettori recalls. "The first time I met him was 10 years ago when I was at the Melbourne Cup with Drum Taps and there was this brash guy with spiky hair and tight breeches. But he is a great jockey, like ice with nerves of steel and lovely hands, and never afraid to take a chance."
Dye's first chance to make an impact comes on Surprise Encounter (1.45) in the Mile. The enigmatic seven-year-old was Roberts' first pick for the opener, to Dettori's delight.
"If I had to match one horse with one jockey they would be the pair," he said, "He has to come from behind and he's a tricky customer but I ride him regularly and I know Shane, with his cool patience, will suit him well."
Last year's Juvenile winner Tout Seul went on to glory in the Dewhurst Stakes and though with the best will in the world lightning is unlikely to strike twice Kinnaird (2.50) is progressive and has the assistance of Kieren Fallon.
In his last two runs Somnus (4.30) has looked more like the horse who had the beating of Tout Seul last year and relatively unexposed Golden Lariat (4.00) can build on his Newmarket win.
There is quantity in abundance in Britain today, but just the one Pattern race, the Group 3 Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock. Late developer Sabre d'Argent (2.35) can take another step up the ladder.
The most significant contest of the weekend is tomorrow at the Curragh, where the first two favourites for next year's 2,000 Guineas, Three Valleys and One Cool Cat, clash in the first Group 1 juvenile race of the season, the Independent Waterford Wedgwood Phoenix Stakes (3.35).
The other top-level action is at Deauville three-quarters of an hour earlier, where Three Valleys' Roger Charlton stablemate Avonbridge and Nayyir (Gerard Butler) challenge for the Prix Maurice de Gheest.
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