By Geoffrey Riddle
Ascot’s Nick Smith has revealed the thinking behind the decision to include Hayley Turner over previous Silver Saddle winner Sammy-Jo Bell and other female jockeys for Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup.
Hayley Turner was parachuted in to what will be her 11th appearance in the world’s premier jockeys’ competition after Josephine Gordon, the previous incumbent, was required by Hugo Palmer on Saturday.
Bell rode two winners in her sole appearance in 2015 to land the Alistair Haggis Silver Saddle for top jockey and helped propel the Girl’s Team to a maiden success since they were first introduced in 2012.
Turner has posted five wins from her ten appearances, and has never been the competition’s top jockey.
There has been intense debate on social media over the past few days as to why Turner was chosen ahead of a legion of other female jockeys. There has been little to no focus on the composition of the other three teams; Europe, Great Britain and Ireland and Rest Of The World.
“Hayley was newsworthy, having just announced she was going to ride in France during the winter, and we have a loyalty to her as she has been an ambassador for years,” Smith, the director of racing and communications, said.
Hayley Turner will join Emma-Jayne Wilson and Michelle Payne in the Girls Team at Ascot on Saturday.
“There are only three spaces on the Girl’s Team, and we like to bring two people in for overseas. Emma-Jayne Wilson has been tremendous for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup, and Michelle Payne is a Melbourne Cup-winning jockey and is commanding a lot of attention in Australia.
“The fact that Hayley or Josephine had the spot doesn’t say anything about the rest of the lady riders, other than the fact that the depth of lady riders is so strong that the question is now being asked.
“Every single time any jockey gets booked people have their own preferences and opinions, it happens all the time. Look at what happened with Harry Bentley and Limato. Why should this be any different? I don’t think you could have a better three lady jockeys.”
Hayley Turner’s involvement in ITV as a pundit was also seen as a positive and Ascot are keen to work with the broadcaster to increase the reach of the unique event. The Shergar Cup will be broadcast live on Racing UK and ITV 4, although Ascot are obviously keen to receive an upgrade to ITV1.
Smith has ruled out the Shergar Cup moving from Saturday to a Sunday but hinted that changes to the world’s premier jockeys’ championship could be around the corner.
The Shergar Cup concept was inaugurated in 2000 and since then the Berkshire racecourse has made good use of the lack of top-class action for its Saturday slot.
Last year 29,276 flocked to the Berkshire course and all enclosures ahead of Saturday are sold out.
Racegoers can enjoy afterwards the Party in the Paddock, featuring Craig David, All Saints, Feeder and DJ Scott Mills.
On Saturday night the Grade One Arlington Million card takes place in Chicago, while there are Group One races in Ireland and France on Sunday.
“The key to these things is a huge crowd, television coverage and sponsorship, and none of those would be sustainable on a Sunday,” Nick Smith, director of racing and communications, said.
“The concert plays a big part and the concert cannot take place on a Sunday night.
“We are very keen to work with ITV to develop the day, potentially bring in ITV personalities to be part of the day because the appeal of this day is very much light entertainment mixed with sport.”
Smith revealed that he is mulling the possibility of bringing back the idea of fielding Team Captains, which in the past included the likes of former footballer and actor Vinnie Jones, tennis star Pat Cash and cricket legend Shane Warne.
There will be no captains on Saturday.
“We used to have team captains in the past, who were not universally popular with the racing fraternity but they can happily ignore them. If it helps with broadening the appeal to the non-racing fraternity, then we are more than happy.
“The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is one of racing’s open days, where something different happens and is an opportunity for new people to come. Racing finds it hard enough to attract repeat audiences outside of the festivals.”