Racing: Going will let Feet So Fast get his toe in

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The Independent Online

The bums on seats flock in, the jockeys have a whale of a time, the trainers and owners love it. But racing as a team event, as in today's Shergar Cup, still seems the antithesis of what the sport is about. The Ascot extravaganza has been likened to the Ryder Cup, but whereas the overlay of nationalistic loyalties works in golf, another essentially individual pursuit, it misses the mark in racing, at least on this occasion.

The bums on seats flock in, the jockeys have a whale of a time, the trainers and owners love it. But racing as a team event, as in today's Shergar Cup, still seems the antithesis of what the sport is about. The Ascot extravaganza has been likened to the Ryder Cup, but whereas the overlay of nationalistic loyalties works in golf, another essentially individual pursuit, it misses the mark in racing, at least on this occasion.

The difference is possibly down to class; the best in each part of the world turn out at The Belfry or Brookline or wherever, and if racing does have an equivalent, albeit unofficial and trophy-free, it may be the Breeders' Cup, where there is a feeling of "us" and "them". But with racing the bottom line is that punters want the horse they have backed to win, and the country of origin of the man on top matters not a jot.

There will be enforced game-show style jollity at Ascot as the ringmasters and mistresses try to whip up enthusiasm about the result of the artificial bookmaker-sponsored Great Britain & Ireland versus the Rest Of The World jockeys' match, and the regular racegoer will look askance at the clownish coloured breeches worn by the team members. There is, though, a not-to-be-sniffed at £350,000 in purses, plus appearance money, on offer.

For all the grandiose race titles borrowed from the Breeders' Cup, four of the six 10-runner races are handicaps (albeit quite good ones) and one an auction stakes. The concluding Sprint, confined to three-year-olds, may be the easiest opportunity of the season to earn a prize of £50,000 and the connections of FEET SO FAST (4.25, nap) must be almost hysterical with glee.

The progressive son of Pivotal was a late withdrawal from the Stewards' Cup a week ago because of fast ground. Today, he not only has ease underfoot and a rail to run against, but drew the services of Mick Kinane, not exactly a drawback.

Not that there should be xenophobia over riders. The ROTW boys are all top-notch reinsmen, even little-known Japanese Hikari Goto. Yes, Ascot takes a bit of knowing but the danger of underestimating the visitors was illustrated last year when Californian-based David Flores rode a double.

There will be no team tactics – the races are bound by the normal rules and the stewards will be vigilant – and, particularly with these small fields, the visitors are no more likely to make an error of judgement than, say, Tony Culhane.

Unusually for Ascot in August, the ground is soft, heavy in places, with more rain forecast. The testing conditions may allow Scotty's Future (1.30) to finally build on his early-season Victoria Cup win. In the Juvenile the accent on stamina over the stiff seven furlongs may play into the hands of Prince Nureyev (2.05). Lady Links (2.40), Jasmick (3.15) and King's Welcome (3.50) are the other suggestions on the card.

There is quantity in abundance in Britain, but just one Pattern race, the Group Three Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock, in which Carnival Dancer (3.00), can begin to fulfil his promise.

But for proven quality it is necessary to cast the eye further afield. The day's main attraction is the long-awaited return to European action of last year's champion Sakhee in the Prix Gontaut-Biron at Deauville. The weather has also been vile in Normandy and Godolphin's pride and joy, ruled out of the King George by fast ground, should have ideal underfoot conditions. The Arc winner, last seen when third in the Dubai World Cup, will face six inferior rivals with Richard Hills deputising for chicken-pox victim Frankie Dettori on board.

In Ireland tomorrow the Curragh hosts the first Group One juvenile contest of the season, the Phoenix Stakes. Aidan O'Brien has sent out the past four winners – Lavery, Fasliyev, Minardi and Johannesburg – and supplies four of the 10 runners for the latest renewal, headed by Hold That Tiger. Tacitus (Richard Hannon), Cassis (Jeremy Noseda) and Polar Force (Mick Channon) travel from Britain, with Simeon (Mark Johnston), Chancellor (Barry Hills) and Foreign Affairs (Mark Prescott) contesting the Group Two Royal Whip.

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