‘Racing isn’t a team sport,’ the diehards used to tell us about the Shergar Cup, Ascot’s annual contest for three-rider teams representing Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Rest of the World, and the Girls. How odd then that the annual extravaganza of six handicaps lavishly sponsored by Dubai Duty Free with its frenziedly twirling cheerleaders and belting theme tunes, its jockey team uniforms and its Silver Saddle prize for the top points-winner, should once again last Saturday have attracted a sellout crowd of 27,000, the biggest turnout the course achieves outside of Royal Ascot. The Shergar Cup may not seem entirely natural to those of us who reach for the Racing Post before we butter our breakfast toast, but it does to those who have downloaded a couple of apps and Snapchatted with half a dozen friends before they have sunk their morning smoothie — because it is Fun, a full day-out experience with a pop concert to follow. Never mind incidentals like the Great Britain and Ireland team being comprised of three Irish riders: Jamie Spencer, Fran Berry and the Hong Kong-based Neil Callan. With racing competing for an ever harder to attract leisure pound it is an event which brings in the first-timers.
Purists were able to enjoy seeing Jamie Spencer ride his 2,000th winner and the chance to assess the merits of overseas riders like Adrie de Vries, 12 times champion in the Netherlands and a top jockey in Germany. On Euchen Glen in the two-miler, patiently sitting last before coming through smoothly to win, he produced the perfect waiting ride. Scottish-based trainer Jim Goldie noted contentedly: ‘Nothing was lost in translation.’ Cheerfulness abounded. After Alexander Plietsch, also German-based, had won the mile race on Raising Sand, his first success at Ascot, I joked with trainer Jamie Osborne that he was clearly no Brexiteer. Jamie’s response was, ‘I’m feeling very pro-Europ-ean today. Up the Germans. I never thought I’d hear myself saying that, especially after going to see Dunkirk last night!’
The first full day of the Premier League football season produced success too for Newmarket trainer and former top footballer Mick Quinn. After Fran Berry, winner of the Silver Saddle, had scored on his 12-1 Great Hall, a welcome success for a small hard-working yard of just 12 horses, Mick revealed that the jockey had won on two of three rides for him. ‘It was three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers when the draw came out… I had a few quid on at 20-1.’ Recalling his opening day hat-trick for Coventry against Arsenal, he offered to talk us through the rest of his opening-day-of-theseason goals, if we had three hours to spare.
The Shergar Cup began life at Goodwood, where Qatar’s Qipco also underlines the debt racing owes to wealthy sponsors. Sadly, The Spectator’s former editor Boris Johnson having turned the weekly Turf column into a fortnightly one, I had no chance to comment last week on a Glorious Goodwood that included the wettest day I can ever recall on a racecourse. Thanks to the coolly organised clerk of the course Seamus Buckley, now sadly due to retire, the Goodwood team took the monsoon in their stride. Other memories which will linger are the breathtaking speed shown in the King George V Stakes by Charlie Hills’s Battaash, partnering whom was memorably described by champion jockey Jim Crowley as ‘like riding a motorbike up the gallops’. Other Goodwood stars to keep watching include Barraquero, quoted at 33-1 for next year’s Guineas after becoming a third winner of the Richmond Stakes for Brian Meehan, and Dee Ex Bee, the handsome, scopey winner of the seven furlong juvenile race for Mark Johnston who helped to ensure that for a remarkable 11th time he was champion trainer at the meeting. We also saw what looked like a perfect prep race for the St Leger from Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean, a horse who the Newmarket maestro deemed too immature to run in the Derby.
Sheer class as well as courage took Aidan O’Brien’s steely-grey filly Winter to victory in the Nassau Stakes after he pulled Churchill out of running on the softened ground. ‘Nothing I didn’t expect to see’ was rider Ryan Moore’s comment on Winter: it was probably just as well the sometimes less than loquacious genius wasn’t on a Shergar Cup team this year. In Churchill’s absence it was sad to see Ribchester beaten in the Sussex Stakes having perhaps been unwisely set to make the running. But if Ribchester had to lose it was good to see success for Jim and Fitri Hay with the 20-1 winner Here Comes When, trained by Andrew Balding. The Hays put a lot into racing and surprisingly this was their first success in a Group One owned on their own (rather than in partnership with Coolmore pals) at their favourite meeting. I was pleased too to see a Glorious Goodwood riding success for Northern-based PJ McDonald on Karl Burke’s Havana Grey. We don’t see him often enough in the South.