Old Shergar would be turning in his grave, whichever bit of Ireland that occupies, if he could see the calibre of horse which contests his eponymous Cup at Ascot today. But, with the greatest of deference to Walter Swinburn, the dozen international jockeys on show this afternoon could all have partnered the great horse to Derby success 23 years ago. And that could be the most faint of praise.
The match between Great Britain & Ireland and a Rest Of The World sextet brings together some of the most celebrated riders worldwide. For the home side, and they should be decked in emerald green breeches rather than red, are Irish boys in Kieren Fallon, Michael Kinane, Johnny Murtagh and Jamie Spencer, as well as Kevin Darley and Darryll Holland.
Frankie Dettori, who has become more British than a pizza delivery, is on loan for the day to the global team, the boys in white breeches. He leads a cosmopolitan bunch of Yutaka Take (Japan), Damien Oliver (Australia), Gerald Mossé (France), Weichong Marwing (South Africa) and Dario Vargiu (Italy).
There are prices for the team competition, but with points being awarded down the field, this is the most volatile of markets. It is best to stick to a system beautifully British and seek win singles instead. This will be possible from both ringside and armchair, as all six races will be televised live on the BBC.
It is, in fact, quite a feast for those unable to vacate the couch. The corporation is also on duty at Haydock, while the regular Channel 4 salvo comes from Newmarket and Redcar. In total, there are 15 races available, a number even beyond the reach of the super goliath.
Ascot, despite its absence of intrinsic quality, provides the focal point, not least because the course guv'nor, Dettori, is in attendance and swiping away further during the duel he has developed with Fallon for the champion's crown.
Fallon has prospects with Pentecost (2.45), who won this contest 12 months ago, while Dettori's response should come via Starry Lodge (next best 3.50), the form horse and an animal which represents the old network with Luca Cumani. Forever Phoenix (1.40), third to Baltic King and Pivotal Point here despite being on the wrong side, has spanking form.
Others to note in between the football-coaching session and Sugababes concert are Khabfair (4.20), who won here two weeks ago and who bears just a 3lb penalty, and SANTANDO (nap 3.20), who has gently drifted to a reasonable handicap mark and will not be overpunted as the mount of Mossé.
The doors are only just swinging in the last-chance saloon at the Curragh tomorrow, when One Cool Cat undertakes what might be the last race of his career in the Phoenix Sprint Stakes. The beaten 2,000 Guineas favourite has returned from his last two races suffering from heart problems and, if he does not succeed today, the pulse will have shut down on his competitive life.
It is an attractive card on the Irish plain, notably because the 2005 1,000 Guineas favourite, Damson, attempts to put the boys in their place in the Group One Phoenix Stakes. That battle of the sexes has not fallen the distaff way for 10 years. But Damson, the Queen Mary Stakes winner, is different, a filly who has had that form circled by the subsequent Princess Margaret Stakes victory of a Berkshire victim in Soar.
France also provides better quality than Ascot tomorrow in the shape of the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville. Half of the 20-strong field is provided by cross-Channel visitors, which is either testament to the quality of the sprint race or the pleasures of the Normandy coast.
The form book gets a good test as this will be a race within a race, a re-run of the July Cup, in which Frizzante and Ashdown Express, the first and second home, resume hostilities.
Results, evening cards, page 67
Colour Guide to Haydock, Newmarket & Redcar, pages 70 & 71
NB: Starry Lodge
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