Dettori rides for British team at Ascot

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The Independent Online

To the name Kevin Pietersen must now be added Frankie Dettori. In the last 24 hours the Milan-born jockey has acquired British status and will ride for his adopted country at Ascot on Saturday. But it must swiftly be added that the racing arrangement differs from the South African cricketer's tenure of the England captaincy in some respects, being temporary, expedient and tongue-in-cheek. Dettori is to step into a breach in the ranks of the annual novelty international team competition that is the Shergar Cup.

In the past, the Italian has captained the European squad in the four-cornered points contest but this year will switch sides after Ryan Moore's commitments at Haydock and Dettori's release by Godolphin (primarily due to the non-appearance of one of the operation's more important horses, Hala Bek, at the Lancashire track) for the day were confirmed almost simultaneously.

"To most people, Frankie means racing," said Ascot's Nick Smith, "and on a day like Saturday, with thousands of kids and first-time racegoers there, we'd be letting everyone down if we didn't let the sport's greatest public asset take the stage. He's ridden here almost all his working life and if anyone can have a foot in either camp, he can. This is not the Olympic Games, after all, it's the Shergar Cup. But it says a lot about the progress of the event that he's so keen to ride."

Dettori will join Hayley Turner and Seb Sanders against Europe, the Rest of the World, and Ireland, and entered into the spirit of what has evolved into a highly popular "fun" fixture with racegoers (personalities and a post-racing pop concert) and professionals (excellent prize money) in its nine-year existence. "I'm claiming dual nationality," he said. "My Arsenal shirt is my passport."

Dettori is this country's best-known, or even only-known, jockey beyond racing's pale but his exploits fade into insignificance beside those of two men who will be riding under the Rest of the World banner. American Russell Baze and Brazilian Jorge Ricardo are the only two jockeys in history to have each racked up a five-figure tally of victories.

For the past 17 months the pair have been swapping the lead in the race to remain the world's winningmost jockey yet have not only never ridden against each other – one competes in the States, the other in Argentina – but never met. The former will be rectified on Saturday, the latter tomorrow at Ascot when the draw for mounts in the six Shergar Cup races takes place.

Baze, 50 tomorrow, went to the top of the all-time leaderboard when he went past Laffit Pincay's previous best of 9,530 and was first overtaken when Ricardo, 46, rode his 9,591st winner on 5 February last year. Ricardo was the first to 10,000 winners, on 9 January this year, and Baze followed suit 22 days later. Ricardo is the current leader on 10,299, with his rival on 10,234.

Baze won his first race in 1974 and Ricardo his in 1976. Their other achievements include being nine-times champion, winner of over 400 races in a season 12 times and having the best strike-rate 11 times (Baze) and 25 times national champion (Ricardo).

The most prolific rider in Britain of all time was Sir Gordon Richards, who won 4,870 races from 21,843 mounts in a three-decade career and was champion 26 times, but the two current number-crunchers have many more opportunities.

Baze, who is based in California, typically rides eight or nine races daily, adding up to more than 1,200 a year. When he first overtook Baze, Ricardo moved from Brazil to Argentina, where he races at three tracks that offer up to 14 races daily.

Ricardo has ridden in Europe once, when he finished 14th on South American champion Much Better in the 1994 Arc, but Baze has not yet ventured outside North America.

It is self-evident that both men who, though riding on Saturday for the same nominal team will be, as the rules of racing state they must, rivals once the stalls open, possess a keen competitive spirit; indeed, Baze notched his 10,000th victory by a nose in a modest contest at Golden Gate Fields. Their presence at Ascot makes the day a must for the purist as well as the casual visitor.