A bit of a circus and a deal of bread is the order of the day at Ascot on the afternoon racing dares to be different. The seventh running of the Shergar Cup, the annual international jockeys' team tournament, puts riders from eight countries in the spotlight, with their different skills and styles. The carrot for owners and trainers, who might have been wary of putting their horses in unknown hands in a novelty competition, is generous prize-money (a total of £200,000, running down to all 10 places in the six contests) and hospitality.
After the draw for mounts, the Rest of the World squad, captained by Ascot's favourite son, Frankie Dettori, were made favourites to beat the home side, Jamie Spencer-led Great Britain & Ireland. The result of the match (decided by points to fifth place) is fairly inconsequential but one of the more 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. Three of them, Australia's Glen Boss, Japan's Yuichi Fukunaga and Canada's apprentice sensation Emma-Jayne Wilson are Shergar Cup rookies.
Essex-conceived Wilson (her parents moved to Ontario shortly before she was born) has taken her native country by storm over the past year, becoming the first female to win the riding title at Woodbine, with 175 winners from 1,096 mounts at the track's 167-day meet. But she has not only never ridden outside Canada before, she has never ridden on a right-handed track.
And though Wilson, 24, may be a wunderkind back home, in this game unfamiliarity is apt to breed contempt and one of George Margarson's concerns about committing his Ebor Handicap contender Young Mick to today's fray was who would be in the saddle. But the man who came out of the bag, Frenchman Gerald Mossé, met with approval. "My main worry was having the right jockey," admitted the Newmarket trainer, slightly uncharitably. "I don't want the horse to get a hiding just for a few points if he's getting beat. But Gerald's ridden for me before in France and he's a good horseman and I don't think I'll have any problems communicating with him."
In effect Young Mick (3.35), the most improved horse in training, is using the Challenge, over the course and distance of the two most recent of his eight victories this year, as a paid prep for his assignment at York in 11 days' time. The presence of a couple of hard pullers in the small field may set the race up ideally for the four-year-old, who is running for the 17th time this year but thrives on racing. "He loves the track and once he is pulled out and sees daylight, he'll go," said Margarson.
Young Mick's stablemate Tarandot has a live chance in the Stayers, but may have to give best to US import Swordsman (3.00), who acquitted himself well on his British debut at Goodwood. His rider, Boss, should find two miles to his taste, as partner of three-time Melbourne Cup heroine Makybe Diva. Dark Missile (1.20), Doctor Brown (1.55), Grantley Adams (2.30) and Prince Of Thebes (4.10) can complete the cosmopolitan look to the day.
The classiest contests in Britain are the Sweet Solera Stakes at Newmarket and Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock, a pair of Group Threes that can provide Mark Johnson with a double, courtesy of Princess Taise (3.10) and fiercely progressive ROAD TO LOVE (nap 2.45). The former is often significant in defining the juvenile filly hierarchy; Soviet Song won it four years ago and last year Nasheej beat Confidential Lady.
In tomorrow's two Group One races, in Ireland and France, the Ballydoyle jockey-go-round is a not insignificant factor. Kieren Fallon, denied his job in Chicago tonight, returns to the Curragh to partner Holy Roman Emperor in the Phoenix Stakes, the race in which George Washington burst on the élite scene last year with an eight-length success. The Bryan Smart-trained Hellvelyn, who had the Aidan O'Brien representative well behind in the Coventry Stakes, is the sole raider from Britain.
In the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville, Jamie Spencer rides for the Co Tipperary axis for the first time since he left its employ under strained circumstances last year. He takes the reins on Ad Valorem in the mile contest, with Librettist (Godolphin) and Peeress (Sir Michael Stoute) challenging from British stables.Reuse content