Stevens is the talk of Ascot

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The Independent Online
When 72,000 people turned up to watch the Derby four days ago on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the Epsom management were so delighted that their collective hangover may be lingering even now. If fewer than that arrive at Ascot for Ladies' Day next Thursday, however, you may find several of the track's executives sobbing quietly into their top hats in a secluded corner of the Royal enclosure, which is not a criticism of the satisfied air at Epsom, but rather a sign of the remarkable and continuing success of the Royal meeting.

The good old-fashioned snobbery may not be to everyone's taste (do not even bother to apply for the Royal enclosure unless a badge-holder with eight years' attendance is prepared to second you), nor too the irritating number of racegoers who can distinguish Versace from Lacroix at 20 paces but would not recognise Henry Cecil if he handed them his business card.

When it comes to racing of the highest quality, however, there is simply nothing in the world to match the 15 Pattern races at Royal Ascot, as the country's racegoers are clearly well aware. All four days feature among the 10 best-attended race-days of 1996, with Gold Cup day (76,316) at the top of the list, and the Wednesday (57,259) and Friday (53,145) placed fourth and fifth respectively.

In fact, the meeting is responsible for almost five per cent of the total attendance at all British courses over the entire year, a snippet of trivia which takes some believing until you study the anticipated fields for some of next week's main events.

The St James's Palace Stakes on Tuesday, for instance, is expected to include the winners of the 2,000 Guineas in France (Daylami), Ireland (Desert King) and Germany and Italy (Air Express), as well as the third, fourth and fifth from the English 2,000 Guineas.

Ladbrokes, who opened a book on the race yesterday, make Daylami their 9-4 favourite, and then bet: 5-2 Desert King, 4-1 Poteen, 5-1 Zamindar, 6-1 Starborough, 10-1 Hidden Meadow, 16-1 bar.

The quality is excellent news too for the BBC, which now relies on Ascot for almost a third of its annual racing coverage and yesterday signed a new three-year deal (cost undisclosed) to extend their contract for a further three years, from 1998 to 2000 inclusive. The corporation will also address the unfortunate lack of depth in much of their racing coverage when compared to that of Channel 4, with the launch of a rival to the latter station's Morning Line during next week's meeting. First Show, which will air for 25 minutes from 11.35 each morning of Royal Ascot, will include previews of the day's racing and betting news.

John Gosden, Barry Hills, Robert Sangster and Clive Brittain were among the figures discussing their teams for the meeting at Ascot yesterday, although the only firm tip to emerge was for Sangster's two-year-old Cape Verdi. The filly's owner admitted that he will be "very disappointed" if she fails to win the Chesham Stakes. The most impressive performance, however, was given by the American jockey Gary Stevens, who had arrived straight from the airport but gave no hint of jet-lag as he discussed his excitement at the prospect of riding at the Royal meeting.

"It will be an honour and an education for me to ride here," Stevens, who narrowly failed to complete the American Triple Crown on Silver Charm last weekend, said. "I've studied European racing since I was a child, and the great European riders, and I'm a great fan of Lester Piggott and Pat Eddery."

Stevens had rides at Newmarket a decade ago, and found the experience interesting. "It was a mile and an eighth, and I was drawn in the middle with Pat Eddery on one side of me. I was looking down that long straight, and Pat said to me, 'which way are you going?' I thought, 'it's straight down, how many choices do you have?', and then the stalls opened and half of them went left and the other half went right and I had to make a very quick decision."

Royal Ascot may be an education for Stevens, but there will be many members of the racing media hoping that the American can also teach his fellow jockeys a little about the art of communication.

Yesterday's results, page 31


NAP: Swan Hunter

(Newmarket 8.10)

NB: Reinhardt

(Beverley 3.00)