Making racing profitable depends on getting information at the right time. In the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood two Saturdays ago I had a fancy for trainer Clive Cox’s Tis Marvellous and plunged accordingly. He finished 25th of the 25 finishers.
Last Saturday he was racing again at Ascot where I spotted a friend with connections to his stable. ‘Any chance?’ I asked. ‘Good horse but I won’t be having a bet,’ he replied — so neither did I. After the diminutive but determined Hollie Doyle had brought home Tis Marvellous to win the opening race of the Shergar Cup competition at 6–1, Cox explained the sprinter’s contrasting performances: ‘You can take a horse to water but you cannot make them drink.’ In the sweltering heat at Goodwood Tis Marvellous for some reason wouldn’t take on any fluids. Since then they had got him drinking again. Fair enough, although the Ascot stewards fined the trainer for failing to report earlier that the horse had been dehydrated on its previous run.
Goodwood had been truly glorious. We had seen the blinding speed of Charlie Hills’s Battaash, surely the fastest horse in Europe. We had seen jump-racing favourite Lil Rockerfeller win the 2m4f Goodwood Handicap by 15 lengths on his first Flat appearance for 1,166 days (he won’t enter starting stalls so has few opportunities). We had seen talented young rider David Egan prove the wisdom of abandoning his apprentice status by winning his first Group race on Pilaster. We had seen the sheer class of Wild Illusion in the Nassau Stakes and the brave and consistent Lightning Spear finally win a Group One contest at the age of seven and on his 16th attempt. That was racing for the aficionados.
At Ascot, the Shergar Cup — long supported by sponsors Dubai Duty Free and staged with great pizzazz by a course once famed for its stiff formality — brings in a rather different looking audience of 30,000 to watch a contest between four teams of jockeys representing Europe, Great Britain and Ireland, the Rest of the World and ‘The Girls’.
With team colours and team anthems, plus a pop concert afterwards, the Shergar Cup is the T20 of the equestrian world, racing for the app generation. It still draws raised eyebrows from some of the sport’s more conservative elements, but it is now firmly established as one of racing’s best days out for the family, with even the contestants bringing theirs along.
Andrew Balding, among the most adept British trainers at campaigning his horses abroad, has long supported the Shergar Cup. ‘It’s something different,’ he says. ‘You either like it or you hate it. It brings a different crowd and a different atmosphere to the racecourse. The prize money is very good and we are always keen to support it when we can.’ On this occasion that approach certainly paid off: he trained three of the six winners.
It is the international jockeys, though, who add spice, although they do not always find the vagaries of the Berkshire track easy to master. Top US jockeys like Corey Brown are said to have ‘a clock in their heads’ because of the emphasis there on sectional timings. But riding Humble Hero for William Haggas, Brown’s clock must have stopped. He let his mount, wearing first-time blinkers, tear away 25 lengths clear of most of the field. It was never going to last and didn’t. Scandinavian veteran Per-Anders Graberg came pretty wide on the final turn before winning the Stayers race on Andrew Balding’s Cleonte but it kept him out of trouble. Afterwards he said that his first win in a Shergar Cup contest would look better on his CV than any of his wins in the Swedish Derby.
We also had a glimpse of why they call Brazilian Joao Moreira ‘Magic Man’ in Hong Kong when he won the last two races on Berkshire Blue and Green Power by margins of a head and a neck; and it was good to hear that after his next foray, to Japan, he would be open to offers to ride in Britain.
Meanwhile, you had to feel a little sympathy for Germany’s Andrasch Starke after his victory on Genetics. ‘This is a place to ride to the winning post,’ he told us. Well yes, one look round and a rival might pounce. But he was 12 lengths clear at the post and the stewards suspended him for two days for hitting his mount after victory was assured.
The greatest joy, though, was for the Girls: British jockeys Hollie Doyle, Josephine Gordon and Hayley Turner. They won the team trophy and the bubbling Turner pipped Moreira to win the Silver Saddle for the leading jockey.
‘I’m so delighted we won,’ she said. ‘We’re racing against the best jockeys in the world and we’ve beaten them on level terms. Just saying.’ Point made, Hayley. But girls are different. I don’t think a male jockey would have exclaimed as she did after meeting the rapper and songwriter Example, one of the stars of the after-racing entertainment: ‘Can you believe it — I just met Example when I’ve got sweaty hair?’