JOCKEYS become the stars of the show at Ascot on Saturday.
The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is a unique event where the world’s top riders, split into four teams of three - Great Britain & Ireland, Europe, Rest of the World and The Girls, battle it out across a thrilling six-race card.
While tipping Shergar at 10/11 to win the 1981 Derby wouldn’t have taken too much research, unfamiliar jockey, trainer and horse pairings make picking winners at tomorrow’s event very difficult.
Great Britain & Ireland have never won the overall accolade since merging forces in 2012, suggesting it doesn’t always pay to stick with the tried and tested jockeys.
In fact, last year the bottom three point-scorers were all UK-based; Silvestre de Sousa, Hayley Turner and Josephine Gordon, while Thierry Jarnet, Gavin Lerena and Kenichi Ikezoe took the first three spots.
So, while the riders will undoubtedly steal the show tomorrow, I’m not getting drawn into jockey bookings and prefer to rummage through the form book.
Anyone that saw Battaash stretch away from the chasing pack to win impressively in the Group Two King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last week may want to pay attention to MIRZA in the Dash (1.05pm).
He finished a clear second to Charlie Hills’ ace sprinter in the Coral Charge at Sandown last time out and that’s about the best form on offer here.
The ground was probably a little quicker than ideal that day too and tomorrow's softer going could see him go one better.
Of his nine career wins, six have come with soft in the going description, and although he’s well into his twilight years as a 10-year-old, his last run indicated that the fire still burns.
Pipers Note, who also goes well with cut in the ground, looks like going off favourite at around the 3/1 mark, while 4/1 shot Lexington Abbey will have his supporters coming from a resurgent Kevin Ryan yard.
However, at around 11/2, Mirza gets the vote as a multiple Group winner with ground in his favour and recent form to boot.
Fran Berry, winner of the Silver Saddle in 2010, is riding with plenty of confidence at the moment and having him on board is another positive.
At the bigger prices, Tropics could spring a minor surprise at a general 7/1.
While Dean Ivory’s nine-year-old hasn’t won a race since June 2015, he’s running off his lowest mark in four years and could be ready to go in again soon.
Next up on the card is the Shergar Cup Stayers (1.40pm), in which Michael Bell’s GRACELAND is the selection.
The gutsy grey mare ran a cracker last time out in the Northumberland Vase, going down by only a neck to London Prize.
She has an untarnished record at Ascot, winning over course and distance on her only start at the Berkshire track first time out this season, and I can’t see tomorrow’s slower surface holding her back from striking again.
While she’s slowly climbed up the weights, Bell’s horses are in fine form and a 4lb rise for her second last time out may not be enough to stop her from going close.
Take the 4/1 with Coral.
Andrew Balding saddles likely favourite Swashbuckle, who won well last time out.
The four-year-old gelding is up 6lbs for winning a mediocre handicap at Salisbury and, while he is clearly a horse on the up, this looks a much tougher assignment.
Lastly, the exciting CONTANGO is bidding to remain unbeaten on his fourth career start in the Classic (3.25pm).
Andrew Balding sent out three winners at Glorious Goodwood last week, bettered only by Mark Johnston’s four, and his three-year-old looks like continuing that good form at 5/2 with Ladbrokes.
He destroyed his field by 11 lengths at Newmarket last time out and before that beat 94-rated Goodwood winner Londinium at Chester.
Contango races off a mark of 92 tomorrow and I don’t think that’s going to be his ceiling.
Mirza 1.05pm Ascot
Graceland 1.40pm Ascot
Contango 3.25pm Ascot
Win or lose there will be a party in the paddock after racing, with live music from Craig David, All Saints and Feeder.
While the main enclosures are now sold out, some tickets are still available in the Windsor Forest Restaurant.
Visit https://www.ascot.co.uk/horse-races-and-events/shergar-cup for details.