At the seventh time of asking the Shergar Cup, to be contested at Ascot on Saturday, is beginning to shed its new clothes. Like the emperor, the international jockeys' team event once believed it was something it was not, and could never be. The Ryder Cup it certainly ain't, but as novelty day at the races it has increasing virtue.
And those that attend are voting with their feet. A run-of-the-mill Saturday programme at Ascot will attract 14,000; this weekend 30,000, including hordes of go-free under-16s, are expected. Owners, another essential but sometimes overlooked part of the sport's equation, are also galloping to the gates. An initial entry of 375 horses for the six races was yesterday whittled down to 156, of whom only 10 per contest will be taking part.
In its earliest incarnation, the Shergar Cup was too grandiose and pompous in its intentions. It evolved, but probably went too far the other way, with token celebrities with no real racing connections appended as crowd-pullers. After a hiatus of a year while its home was being rebuilt it has come back as a purer occasion, sans footballers.
Six-strong teams of jockeys, nominally representing Great Britain and Ireland and the Rest Of The World, will ride in the six races - the Distaff, Juvenile, Sprint, Stayers, Challenge and Mile - and score points for their sides in the process. "The occasion once had ideas above its station," said Ascot's Nick Smith yesterday, "but no-one is under any illusions any more about what we're trying to achieve. It's a pleasant diversion, a way of pepping up a quiet Saturday between Glorious Goodwood and the York Ebor meeting.
"The jockeys will, of course, be trying to win on the day, but there will be few tears shed about the overall result on the way home. The team concept doesn't prove anything about the merits of the riders, and they know that and we know that, but it brings jockeys to Britain who would not normally comeand that's always interesting."
In the red breeches, for GBI, will be usual enough suspects: captain Jamie Spencer, Ryan Moore, Mick Kinane, Seb Sanders and Robert Winston. Leading the whites, for ROW, will be Frankie Dettori, backed up by Australian Glen Boss, Japan's Yuichi Fukunaga, France's Gerard Mosse and South Africa's Doug Whyte.
For the first time, there will be female participation, Hayley Turner for the home side and Canadian apprentice sensation Emma-Jayne Wilson for the visitors.
The carrot for owners and trainers is no entry fees, free hospitality and a total of £200,000 prize money, paid down to last place in each race. In other words, guaranteed appearance money, a unique concept in this country.
There will be a £6,000 prize for the leading trainer and prizes galore for stable staff, to a total of £10,000. And for all its off-the-wallness, some good horses have appeared at the meeting. The Juvenile, for instance, has twice been taken by subsequent Group One winners, Kinnaird and Tout Seul. And among the entries is a Shergar Cup regular. Andrew Balding-trained Pentecost has carried Whyte and Kieren Fallon to victory in the past two Miles.
After the wonderful display by Ouija Board and Alexander Goldrun, at Goodwood on Saturday, the other side of the equine psyche was in evidence at Newton Abbot yesterday
In the Nassau Stakes, the two brave mares demonstrated their utmost willingness to run to their limits when asked. In contract, in the novices' chase at the Devon track, Alikat won despite, rather than because of, herself. In a bizarre incident in a three-horse field, the blinkered David Pipe-trained mare was left on her own after Blue Sovereign with whom she was sharing the lead, ran out with a circuit to go. Going to the 14th fence Alikat virtually pulled herself up, despite Timmy Murphy's best efforts.
It was not until the other runner, Allow Dancer, who had been miles behind, arrived on the scene and - labouredly - gave her a lead that she consented to run again. Once over the last, she eased away to win by five lengths, much to the relief of those who had backed her to 4-11 favourite.
Stoute decides against appeal
Neither Sir Michael Stoute nor Tim Pitt are to appeal against the imposition of recent large fines under the so-called non-triers rules. Stoute has decided not to contest the decision on Friday of the Horseracing Regulatory Authority to up the £6,500 fine he incurred over the running of Florimond at Windsor last month to £8,500.
Pitt was fined £6,000 on Saturday at Thirsk after his charge Jordan's Light finished a tenderly-handled sixth in the mile handicap under apprentice James O'Reilly. The 7lb-claimer was suspended for 30 days and his mount, like Florimond, was banned from running for 40 days.Reuse content