Having been devised to dismantle barriers between nations, the Shergar Cup could now make a significant breakthrough in the one dividing the sexes. Admittedly the first team of female riders to contest the competition, a year ago, together finished last of four. After the draw for mounts was completed however, Ladbrokes gave Rosie Napravnik, Cathy Gannon and Lisa Allpress every chance of proving first among equals at Ascot on Saturday.
In fact, bookmakers perceived such parity of opportunity that 9-4 favouritism is shared between "the Girls", Great Britain and Ireland, and the Rest of the World – with only the trio representing Europe felt to have lost out conspicuously in the ballot, at 4-1.
The American Napravnik is genuine box office for this event. Rider of 1,600 winners, this year she became the first woman to ride in all three legs of the same Triple Crown series, setting new benchmarks of fifth and third respectively in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. She also rode Shanghai Bobby to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last autumn.
Top billing will none the less be reserved for her compatriot Gary Stevens, who ended a seven-year retirement last winter and won his ninth Triple Crown race when Oxbow landed the Preakness in June. He shares 5-1 favouritism with James Doyle for the Silver Saddle, awarded to the leading rider.
It is a genuine coup for Ascot to lure such big names over the Atlantic during prestigious meetings in their homeland. For instance, Wise Dan himself will be illuminating proceedings at Saratoga tomorrow when he bids to extend his winning spree in the Fourstardave Handicap. Some have been critical of the way the Horse of the Year has been campaigned since the Breeders' Cup, being anxious to see him reiterate his versatility back on dirt. As in his latest start, Wise Dan is confined to Grade Two company at Saratoga, albeit he must concede plenty of weight.
Charlie LoPresti, trainer of Wise Dan, defends his owner, Morton Fink, against charges that he has been too conservative. "Maybe in a lot of people's eyes, he's not showcasing how good Wise Dan really is," LoPresti admitted to the Blood Horse. "But that's okay. They can criticise all they want, but Wise Dan, when he's right... I don't know that there's a horse around that can beat him. He's a freak of nature."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Sea The Skies (5.40 Newmarket) Well bred colt who built on a promising debut when opening up impressively at Sandown.
Where the money's going
Telescope is 5-6 favourite with the sponsors for the Betfred Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.
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