Racing: Shergar Cup is cause for celebration

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The Independent Online
INNOVATION IS not normally a word that associates itself with racing, a sport which has spent more than two centuries settling itself into a comfortable routine. If it were a person, it would be a nonagenarian snoozing gently in a musty room, surrounded by newspapers announcing the end of rationing.

This is why today's inaugural running of the Shergar Cup at Goodwood should be a cause for celebration. A pet project of Peter Savill, the chairman of the BHB, it has been sold as racing's first team event, and even as the turf's answer to the Ryder Cup.

Teams from the Middle East - "captained" by Sheikh Mohammed - and Europe, led by Robert Sangster, will have five runners each in today's six races. A winner earns 15 points, while the next five places are awarded 10, seven, five, three and one respectively.

The first thing that needs to be said about today's Goodwood card is that it is excellent, with competitive racing and a sprinkling of major names from the first event to the last, the pounds 100,000 Shergar Cup Classic.

Border Arrow, third in last year's Derby, is a runner in the final race on the card, along with that old Godolphin warhorse, Annus Mirabilis.

But the second is that it is perplexing why anyone should feel the need to add a portion of nationalism to the mixture. The idea that the Shergar Cup is anything akin to the Ryder Cup does not stand even the barest scrutiny, since the best of the horses representing the Middle East will be ridden by an Italian, and several others are trained in Newmarket or Middleham.

You can also be fairly sure that no one at the racecourse will be cheering on a particular runner simply because it is "one of ours".

British punters would yell for a horse that was trained in Baghdad and ridden by Saddam Hussein if it was about to oblige for them at a decent price. And quite right too, because racing has never been about where you come from. Everyone is equal, as the old saying has it, when they are on the turf, and under it, and the very notion of adding national rivalry at this late stage is unnecessary and misguided.

Still, there is much to enjoy in the racing itself, without bothering to keep a count of the points. The Sprint sees the return of good horses like Lavery and Blue Melody, but if you want a runner with real courage on your side, the choice has to be Pipalong (2.55). She has a fair chance on her best form and she will fight all the way to the line.

Risque Lady (3.25) should beat off her opponents in the Distaff, while the confidence behind Godolphin's Diktat (next best 3.55) in the next is impossible to ignore. Border Arrow (4.25), meanwhile, must be the choice in the Classic, despite not having seen a course since the Derby. He looked the type even then to be make a much better four-year-old.

One aspect of the Shergar Cup which is probably not in doubt is the reaction of the Lingfield Park authorities when they heard about its date and location.

Derby Trial day at the Surrey course is the biggest of their year, and yet this new attraction has appeared at a track barely 60 miles distant. They will still grab the attention, though, when the runners go to post for the race which produced last year's Derby winner, Luca Cumani's High- Rise, and is the chosen stopping-off point for Daliapour, his hope for this season's race.

He faces just four opponents, but they include Fantastic Light, who won the Thresher Classic Trial, and Lucido (3.40), who should give them both plenty to think about.

John Dunlop's runner is not entered in the Derby, but he beat Oath last time out, who more than franked the form with an easy win at Chester on Thursday.

It is hard to oppose Ramruna, who is already the 6-1 favourite for the Oaks, in the fillies' trial earlier on the card, but there will be better odds to be had about EASTER OGIL (nap 3.10). Ian Balding's runner ran well from an impossible draw at Hamilton last time, but has the best of it now, in stall 15 against the rail.