While some purists remain reliably condescending, the Shergar Cup has earned a legitimate niche in the racing summer.
A team competition between international riders can engage a different audience, never a bad thing in a fairly arcane sport; and it usefully relieves the domestic drought between Goodwood and York. Trainers and owners, moreover, are happy to trade control over their choice of rider for the chance to contest very good prize-money in handicaps confined to just 10 runners. And what kind of purist, anyway, could join the family throng at Ascot today and fail to be excited by the chance to watch the American Gary Stevens ride again?
It was a privilege, once, to see the great man devote a few months of his prime to riding full-time in this country; and it is a sweet bonus, now, to be granted this fleeting postscript, as a result of his comeback from a seven-year retirement. During his stint as stable jockey to Sir Michael Stoute in 1999, Stevens required no time to adjust to an alien racing environment before he was outwitting indigenous rivals. That innate flair for reading pace and position has plainly not deserted one who hypnotised his juniors to win the Preakness Stakes in June – for Wayne Lukas, another Hall of Fame practitioner himself assumed by many to be over the hill.
Among those measuring themselves against an old master today, meanwhile, is a remarkable compatriot. Rosie Napravnik has broken into the elite in their homeland and heads a trio of female riders against teams representing Great Britain & Ireland, Europe and the Rest of the World.
But it is Stevens who can get his men off to a flying start. Though below form from a poor draw last time, Roserrow (12.55) had previously been flourishing for a trainer, Andrew Balding, who has regularly targeted this race.
Broxbourne’s recent improvement gives the New Zealander Lisa Allpress obvious prospects in the other early race, screened on More4. But her mount was off the bridle some way out at Goodwood last week, over a longer distance, and this contest may not be strongly run. Preference is duly for Mutual Regard (1.30), with the seasoned assistance of Gerald Mossé, after he resumed his progress in cheekpieces last time.
Steps and Racy (2.05) have both looked ready to strike in top sprint handicaps of late, the latter underlining his improvement for his new stable when fourth in the Stewards’ Cup last Saturday. He is better still at this shorter trip.
Broughton, one of five runners for Mark Johnston in the next, would appear to give Stevens strong prospects after his success at Goodwood. But this trip has seemed to stretch his stamina and a chance is taken that Royal Skies (2.40) can bounce back under Mossé after disappointing at the same meeting. Another from the stable who can contribute to the Europe cause is Star Lahib (3.15), unbeaten at this trip, while Napravnik’s best chance of making it “ladies first” is Noble Deed (3.50) in the last.
Channel 4 also takes in the Group race from Haydock, the Rose of Lancaster Stakes, where the exciting Telescope (2.55) has been found an ideal introduction to older horses, and Newmarket.
The race of the weekend is at Deauville tomorrow, when Intello, Moonlight Cloud and the tireless Dawn Approach make the Prix Jacques le Marois closer to race of the season; War Command will, meanwhile, be attempting to elaborate his claims as the summer’s top juvenile over at the Curragh in the Phoenix Stakes.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Dare To Achieve (5.05 Haydock)
Al Guwair (8.15 Lingfield)