With fairly slim pickings at most racecourses on Saturday afternoon, Ascot should at least be praised for getting 30,000 people to flock to Berkshire for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup.
Love it or hate it, no racecourse will have more people through the gates on Saturday and, given a large proportion of those racegoers will stay for the concert afterwards, it is hard to begrudge Ascot for their efforts.
There are plenty out there who would prefer to shun the Shergar Cup, but August is the holiday month so it makes sense for those to book time off on the right weekend next year as the premier jockeys’ competition is here to stay.
As a betting medium I like it, because with fields of 10 runners there is always an each-way angle to get stuck into. The event is not shown in its best light on Saturday, however, because we will not know if it is Hollie Doyle or Michelle Payne who is in the plate until the Australian rider has passed a medical. Not ideal.
What is also not ideal is that Italian Umberto Rispoli is aboard what I thought would be one of my best bets on the card in Green Door in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Dash. Rispoli is a dual champion jockey in Italy, and passes his time between France and Hong Kong, so he certainly knows the time of day.
His record on horses in Britain, however is risible. He has had 24 rides here going back to 2007 and only one win. He took part in the 2010 Shergar Cup and managed to cobble together just 19 points.
The good news is that Green Door could easily get an uncontested lead under the 29-year-old, and is proven in the soft ground. After a standard pipe-opener in July, Green Door showed he was ready for the winners’ enclosure when third to El Astonaute at Goodwood last time.
The only concern I have is that Ascot has not been a happy hunting ground for the six-year-old gelding – six runs and six stinkers, but some of those races were much better than this one so I am happy to give him one more go at 8-1.
It is lucky that Anthony Delpech is on a 33-1 chance in the Shergar Cup Stayers’ Handicap because speaking to him on Thursday he revealed that he rarely has to ride over 1m6f and at the sort of speeds British races are run at. The South African legend is 48, and put on a bold front that he would easily be fit enough before later conceding that he might have a little blow afterwards.
Compatriot Gavin Lerena struck 12 months ago from the front on Arch Villain but Delpech is unlikely to take a hand in aboard Cosmelli, despite his ride’s first-time headgear. Once again, however, it may pay to back one from the front.
Sometimes the key to the Shergar Cup is to look at who takes it deadly seriously and Andrew Balding has had four winners at the event, but not one since Desert Law in 2012. Balding fields the in-form Swashbuckle, who has done nothing but improve for being gelded at the beginning of the season.
The four-year-old ran the race of his life when edging out smart hurdler Sternrubin at Salisbury and proved that he had no issue with rain-softened going. Neil Callan is a master at riding from the front, and although he will not get it his own way he looks a worthy favourite.
Callan’s prowess could well be showcased later on the card when he takes the ride on the game Rake’s Progress in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Classic.
Trainer Heather Main looks on course to record her best season so far and of her five winners this campaign, Rake’s Progress has been responsible for two of them. The three-year-old showed last time when victorious at Newbury that there was a lot left in the tank and the gelded son of Derby winner Sir Percy loves soft ground. At a double-figure price he is a huge each-way play, as there is unlikely to be a horse in the field who wants to win more.
Clearly if Callan manages two wins for 30 points then he is a real candidate for the Alistair Haggis Silver Saddle for being the top rider. Every single top jockey has accumulated 35 points or over since the competition began in 2000. Callan has been riding out of his skin this season in Hong Kong, where he finished third in the table when the season ended last month. Pipers Note is around 7-2 for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Dash and Goodwood Crusader is around 8-1 for the Sprint, so he should be at least in the mix.
Away from Ascot the Rose Of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock looks one of the classiest of the day but there are question marks about the fancied horses. Sir Michael Stoute has a fine record in this race, so his Autocratic has to be feared, but there is a question mark as to whether the son of Dubawi can handle the rain-softened going.
Spark Plug is another who would want conditions firmer, while there is no proof yet that the unbeaten and rapidly improving Laraaib can handle it, either.
Mark Johnston’s Frankuus is two from two at Haydock, and has been steadily improving throughout the season. His effort behind Defoe was his best yet, and if Joe Fanning can get the three-year-old to travel through the race at the front in a lower gear he should have enough left at the business end on ground he handles better than his main rivals.
How to bet your £20 on Saturday: (Prices correct at 4.30pm)
1.40 Ascot: £5 Swashbuckle at 100-30 generally available
£4 Neil Callan to be top Shergar Cup rider at 6-1 generally available.
£5 each-way double on Swashbuckle and Rake's Progress £10 Neil Callan to be top Shergar Cup jockey