By Tom Peacock
Through smart marketing and advertisement, as well as a post-race concert featuring recognisable figures, the development of the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup has become one of Ascot’s shrewdest moves.
The near-32,000 sell-out is a larger attendance than the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes and similar to British Champions Day but has an identity all of its own.
As they look at the balance sheet, Ascot’s executive are entitled to congratulate themselves on a job well done. Michelle Payne’s absence due to illness was not keenly felt, and the team and individual competitions remained open until the last race.
In terms of improving the racing product, some things are beyond the committee’s control. Yesterday might be the most suitable slot, in that it is largely clear of other significant racing in Europe, but top jockeys such as Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore are almost always going to be required elsewhere.
As we had the Arlington Million card as well as graded events at Saratoga and Monmouth, this will always be a stumbling block for booking the best Americans.
Time to bring in the Ladies:
Nearly everything about the Shergar Cup should be taken in good spirit and it does not feel as there has ever been too much dissatisfaction at the presence of a Girls team since 2012.
At the risk of walking a gender tightrope or being patronising, the attendance for this meeting feels more mixed, and more full of the uninitiated, than any other. To illustrate this fairly bold way that the sport involves women as much as men, surely does far more good than harm.
Speaking to a few female press-room colleagues, who I would tentatively describe as outwardly if not overtly feminist, their particular quibble was with the name, and that Emma-Jayne Wilson should really have been captaining a team of Women or Ladies.
Give more apprentices a chance:
The Girls (or Ladies) team has handed an opportunity to ride at a big meeting and to make new contacts for young riders such as Hollie Doyle and Sammy-Jo Bell in recent times, so why not take it a step further and have an apprentice on each team?
As much as the organisers work hard to secure some flagship names, it is questionable whether every team member could be rightfully considered a star attraction, even in their own country.
Most recognised racing jurisdictions have an established apprentice system and would be able to provide a suitable candidate, while we have aspiring jockeys from across Europe and from as far afield as South America even riding in races for some of our own major stables.
Ascot’s Nick Smith said on Thursday at the Shergar Cup press conference that an apprentice team was unlikely, but the competition has always been a moveable feast.The Girls team has become a real feature of the Shergar Cup, and Sammy-Jo Bell was an apprentice when she won the Silver Saddle in 2015 (Racingfotos)
Prize-money spread nicely:
Outside of the top 20 or so in the trainers’ standings, most yards would like a lot more of the horses that fit in the sort of 90-100 ratings bracket that gets you a run in the Shergar Cup. They would also like more chances to be running for £45,000 per race.
Of the winning trainers, only Tim Easterby is inside that top 20, and every single successful one had lent their support by turning up. The likes of John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute get their chances of big race wins on a regular basis and there was a feeling that for the likes of John Best and Dean Ivory, these were winners they were going to remember and celebrate.
Niblawi one to follow:
A fairly recent addition to Neil Mulholland’s yard after spells with Ismail Mohammed and Michael Bell, Niblawi has the potential to frustrate given he seems to have to be held up at the back and brought through steadily.
Wilson did nothing wrong in this regard, overcoming a wide draw and attempting to slip up the inner, but her mount never quite built up enough of a head of steam and finished fourth.
He was a similar second over course and distance last month and it would look as if he has been bought by owner Tony Bloom with a view to going hurdling one day. First, he might benefit from trying over a slightly longer trip on the level.
Spencer’s achievement slightly overshadowed:
A little over a length was the difference between Jamie Spencer stealing all of the headlines on the afternoon. The dual champion became only the fourth active jockey to have ridden 2,000 winners in Britain - a month after Moore managed the same feat - when he took the opening race.
Spencer, who was the successful Great Britain and Ireland captain, had to weave through a bit of traffic on Megan Lily in the finale before finishing third behind his teammate Fran Berry, the eventual winner of the Alistair Haggis Silver Saddle.
The ride was pure Spencer, whose style has remained instinctive, brilliant and frustrating in equal measures. Still only 37 and with the career he has had, one could hardly say it has not served him well.