Ascot Betting: Against the odds, the Shergar Cup is a winner
Ascot will once again play host to the Shergar Cup
"I am a convert to the Shergar Cup, if a convert with some reservations. Which is perhaps a good thing as the intention is to run my horse One Way Or Another in the Shergar Cup Mile, if he makes the cut (he also has an entry at Haydock on the same day)."
Simon Rowlands muses on the unexpected success of the Shergar Cup and rounds up his thoughts from the last week of racing.
This coming Saturday sees the 10th Shergar Cup, an international jockeys' challenge, held at Ascot following an inaugural year in which it took place at Goodwood.
Back in 2000, I wrote the following for Timeform: "The second Shergar Cup again fell some way short of the expectations of its organisers, with only one of the races having a maximum field of 10 and the contest in effect over before the last.
"While there were some moves in the right direction this year, and things may well progress further, it is difficult to imagine how the event can ever truly fulfil the vision held for it.
"Racing as it stands simply doesn't lend itself to the team concept, especially as in any individual race each rider is under an obligation to try to beat the remainder of his or her own team as well as the opposition.
"Furthermore, it is impossible to establish an entirely level playing field given the varied abilities of the horses concerned, the effect of the draw, and so on, let alone when the majority of the races are non-handicaps.
"That's not to say that the event, although somewhat anomalous, is without interest, and the standard of racing was again of a pretty high standard."
Nine years on, and the Shergar Cup has gone from strength to strength, regardless of my initial lack of enthusiasm. The team concept remains a flawed one, but people put up with it because it still makes for good entertainment. Crucially, the event's organisers have ensured that no race has been more than one runner short of the maximum since 2000, and they finally saw sense and made all races handicaps in 2007.
And here's the really surprising thing, I am a convert, if a convert with some reservations. Which is perhaps a good thing as the intention is to run my horse One Way Or Another in the Shergar Cup Mile, if he makes the cut (he also has an entry at Haydock on the same day).
From an owner's point of view, it is difficult to find fault with the Shergar Cup, if you leave aside the possibility that your pride and joy will end up being ridden by a jockey you have scarcely heard of and who has little or no experience of racing at Ascot.
The prize money is good and is paid down to 10th; there is free entry and appearance money for each horse; and the event takes place at Ascot, one of the world's premier racecourses, and will be shown in its entirety on the BBC.
I suspect One Way Or Another will be up against it, whichever track he runs at, off a mark 3 lb higher than for his defeat at Ascot last time. But, against that, trainer Jeremy Gask could scarcely be in better form.
Theta Wave's win at Ripon on Monday was the 19th of the year for the stable and the third in four days. What's more, many of those winners have come at big prices - some of them even carrying my money - with the result that the stable is operating at a level-stakes profit for the year despite a dip in form between March and mid-June. That takes some doing.
With such figures - statistical and human - on my side, I have to be hopeful of a good run at least.
* * *
I chose a bad year in which to attempt to illustrate the effect of the draw in the big mile handicap at Goodwood last week. Laa Rayb won, running from stall 8, with horses from single-figured stalls filling four of the first six places, in direct contrast to the outcome in recent years.
Hopefully the abiding message was that it is possible - in theory at least - to assign probabilities to events happening, even if they seem unlikely, and that such an approach is preferable to any that attempts to identify qualifiers and simply to rule out non-qualifiers. The latter methodology may be convenient (and there is probably something to be said for that) but intrinsically flawed.
The ground was soft by the end of not-so-glorious Goodwood and was probably tending to the easy side from the outset, which is worth bearing in mind when considering the performances from there in future.
The performance of the week has to go to Rip Van Winkle, who overcame an injury scare to win the Sussex Stakes in exemplary style. Good though the Aidan O'Brien-trained horse was, it was difficult not to see him as a proxy for Sea The Stars, who has beaten him three times out of three, most recently by a length in the Eclipse.
Tried-and-trusted handicapping techniques show that a winner of the Sussex Stakes by such margins, in such circumstances, is highly likely to be worthy of a rating into the 130s. "Collateral" form lines back that up.
It is no surprise to see that Timeform have upgraded their already positive assessment of the Eclipse and now rate Rip Van Winkle 134 and Sea The Stars 136p (the p denoting the likelihood of improvement). There must be a very real possibility that Sea The Stars will become the first 140-rated horse since Dubai Millennium in 2000, himself the first since Dancing Brave in 1986.
A possible clash between Sea The Stars and Mastercraftsman in the International Stakes at York on August 18 will be worth travelling a long way to see, something I intend doing. Sea The Stars can be backed at [1.76] on Betfair and Mastercraftsman at 3.4. I suspect there is more between them than that.
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