A Berry good day again for Fran in Shergar Cup at Ascot

Sat 12 Aug 2017

The Great Britain and Ireland team comprising Jamie Spencer, Fran Berry and Neil Callan won the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot on Saturday.

Shergar cup 2017   racingfotos The Great Britain and Ireland team amaased 86 points to the Rest Of The World's 67 points. (Racingfotos)

By Tom Peacock at Ascot

Fran Berry will probably judge his riding career by other measures when it comes to an end one day but he could easily quit while he is ahead when it comes to the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup.

The 36-year-old has a spotless record in Ascot’s jockey competition. In two appearances in the Ireland side in 2010 and 2011 he left with one individual and two team victories.

On his debut for a Great Britain & Ireland team which, with Jamie Spencer and Neil Callan, contained three members of the latter, he again came out on top.

Much of it is down to the horses jockeys are drawn but Berry made the most of his five opportunities. He provided Mick Quinn with a first Ascot winner in Great Hall at 12-1 in the Challenge and clinched both prizes in the last race with a fine hold-up ride on Golden Apollo (4-1) in the Sprint.

Spencer had got them off to the perfect start when he registered his 2000th career success aboard Stake Acclaim (4-1jf) in the Dash.

“It’s a big day - you see the crowd and you get a kick out of it,” Berry said, the victory champagne soaking nicely into his hair and jacket.

“We’re trying every day but you want to ride big winners. It was great to get the call up and I didn’t realise I’d won us the team competition until after the line.”

In the end it was an easy win for GB & Ireland over the Rest Of The World while the Girls team, with Hollie Doyle replacing the absent and unwell Michelle Payne on the morning of the competition, failed to make much of an impression.

It did not make for the most exciting story in the event's history and it was a shame that Alexander Pietsch did not have a ride in the finale with the Europe team still in the hunt, as he might have had something special up his sleeve.

Pietsch, who has been joint-champion jockey back home but was unfamiliar to all those without reasonable knowledge of German racing, announced himself as a very welcome character as he took his hands briefly off the reins and spread them out wide while pulling up Raising Sand (10-1) from their win in the Mile.

“Sometimes you feel like flying,” Pietsch said between frequent apologies for the (perfectly acceptable) standard of his English. “It was just some fun for the people. I can’t do the jump like Frankie Dettori does.”

What has always had the greatest capacity to amuse is the faintly surreal encounters between unfamiliar connections thrown together by the luck of the draw. When else, indeed, would multiple Japanese champion jockey Keita Tosaki get to meet the team behind Dorset-based trainer Brian Barr? And what did the Italian jockey Umberto Rispoli make of Tim Easterby, who had come down from Yorkshire with a handful of runners?

An idiosyncratic team worked in the Stayers comprising a combination of two vastly underrated masters of their profession as Adrie de Vries was quick to complement Scotsman Jim Goldie on receiving “good instructions” as to holding up Euchen Glen (7-1) and taking the prize. Not often do you see the Dutch flag draped over a horse in the Ascot winner’s enclosure, either.

For Newmarket trainer Quinn, there was a sense of relief when it turned out Berry was aboard Great Hall in the Challenge as he led Spencer and Gawdawpalin for a team one-two.

“This horse has been a bit unlucky,” said Quinn.

“All the jockeys have come back and said ‘there’s a nice one in him, there’s a nice one in him’. I think it all fell into place today. Fran’s had three rides for me - two winners and a second - so it was three Hail Mary’s and two Our Fathers when the draw and the weights came out.”

Luckily, the sniffiness from within the industry as to this event has withered. Trainers and owners are competing for pretty impressive prize money here and a sell-out 32,000 turned up. Certainly, many were there for Craig David or All Saints later on, but people were out in the grandstands, watching the racing and having a bet.

If you want an unimpeded afternoon of getting to the paddock and having a bet, you probably know already this meeting is not for you. Yet a wander through the crowd was uplifting, with an attendance markedly younger and better-dressed than any other. This demographic of the 20s and 30s is the one racing must reach out to.

Nick Smith, Ascot director of communications and racing, said: "What was particularly interesting today was that 84% of this great crowd were through the turnstiles by 1.15pm, showing that they were keen to see the racing."

It does not even matter if they do not come again until next year; some will. A few might even buy a horse one day, and they will probably want Fran Berry to ride it.

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