Shergar Cup razzmatazz has the crowds flocking to Ascot

Ireland win jockeys' title at a canter and Hughes takes prize for best ride
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The Independent Online

Yesterday's Shergar Cup, an unashamedly novelty jockeys' team contest, drew the year's second-biggest crowd here outside the Royal meeting. Nearly 28,000 turned up to watch riders from Ireland do good-natured battle with their colleagues from Britain, Europe and the Rest Of The World in six decent handicaps. By comparison, last month's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the best middle-distance race of the summer, attracted 26,000 and Gold Cup day in June 78,000.

There are those who might say that if the Twenty20 world of gold pompoms, cheerleaders and rock anthems are the future then the sport may be in more trouble than it realises, but on a warm sunny afternoon, the public voted with its feet and most of the professionals were not complaining either, with the Dubai Duty Free sponsored event featuring £35,000 prize money on offer per race with a return even to the last-placed finisher, a total of £5,000 for stable staff and £3,000 to the day's leading jockey.

That proved to be Richard Hughes, who won on Polly's Mark, We'll Come and Press The Button. For the Irishman, the bottom line was that it was just a particularly good day at the office but he was also perfectly aware of the valid place the occasion has now attained in the calendar, and its marketing potential. "It's a one-off, and in the greater scheme of things doesn't mean much," he said, "but it's worth doing. I can remember when I was a boy of about 10 I'd go to the Curragh to watch Lester Piggott when he came over and hang about the weighing room to get his autograph. Sometimes I'd get it, sometimes not,but seeing a top rider like him kept my passion going.

"The boys and girls here today have been able to meet us and get close up and if even some of the youngsters here today get the same sort of thrill and keep their interest, then job done."

There were, gratifyingly in an age of sporting cynicism, stars in some eyes inside the ropes, too. Malesh Narredu, on the RoW team, has been champion in India 13 times but admitted that his first visit to this celebrated venue had reduced him to 41 going on 14. "I am excited at just being here," he said, "as I was when I was an apprentice having my first ride."

Narredu failed to trouble the judge in a competition that owes as much to luck of the draw that matches riders with horses as skill in the saddle, and that was won at a canter by the Irish team of Hughes, Neil Callan and Seamie Heffernan.

The ride of the day award went to Hughes for his daring dash between Narredu's mount Glow Star and the rails on We'll Come to take the Mile. The most appropriate winner was partnered by Hayley Turner, who had spent much of the morning stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 and won the finale on Noverre To Go.

At Newmarket, Long Lashes took her record to two from two with a determined success in the Sweet Solera Stakes. The filly, recruited by Godolphin after winning her maiden for Jessica Harrington, took the seven-furlong contest – won last year by Rainbow View – by a length and is now as short as 16-1 for next year's Classic. "She's strong, with a lot of scope," said rider Ted Durcan, "and she's a scrapper."

The form of last month's Eclipse Stakes, in which Sea The Stars beat Rip Van Winkle (subsequently winner of the Sussex Stakes) and Conduit (the King George), received a further boost when sixth-placed Jukebox Jury saw off Campanologist in the day's other Group Three prize, the Rose Of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock.

Equestrianism

Daisy Dick and Kitty Boggis headed the two advanced classes at the Festival of British Eventing yesterday, writes Mary Gordon-Watson at Gatcombe. Dick took Section A on her remarkable 16-year-old Spring Along, their clear show-jumping round and speedy cross country overhauling William Fox Pitt on Cool Mountain, who lowered one rail. Fox Pitt was runner-up again in Section B, beaten all the way by the in-form Boggis on Boondoggle, a New Zealand thoroughbred gaining his best result ever. The coveted British Novice Championship was claimed by the England-based Australian Clayton Fredericks, riding Bendigo III, who defeated more than 200 rivals.

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