I find it incredibly difficult to get excited by the prospect of another Shergar Cup at Ascot.
I’m sure there’s some that enjoy the competition, now quite incredibly into its 16th year, with the boys taking on the girls; Europe taking on GB&Ireland; GB&Ireland versus the Rest Of The World and the Rest Of The World challenging both boys and girls – you get the idea.
Billed as ‘the worlds premier jockey competition’ it sees four teams of three, battle it out over six races, scoring points for their finishing positions within the aforementioned races. Last year it was the girls, led by Canadian Emma-Jayne Wilson, that landed a famous victory.
Much was made of their success, and I guess that such a win goes some way in promoting female jockeys within the sport. However, I can’t help but find it patronising, to the point of embarrassing.
Those involved in this great sport, and those that watch as fans and punters, know only to well that there are talented female jockeys and talented male jockeys. Do we really need a separate female team in such an event? Couldn’t Emma-Jayne simply be invited to ride for the Rest Of The World team, whilst the exciting young apprentice Josephine Gordon get the ‘leg-up’ for team GB?
I concede that seeing three talented female riders lifting the cup may well inspire others to strive for such success. Role models, we are told, are crucial in all walks of life. Nevertheless, I remain uncomfortable with the whole ‘Wow, women won the cup’ narrative.
If the format leaves me somewhat cold, then the standard of racing does little to set the pulse racing. The Shergar Cup Dash, for those rated 86-105 gives us the highest rated racehorse at the meeting, thanks to Line Of Reason. Now I’m not saying that the six-year-old isn’t a talented sprinter, and I’m not saying that Class 2 or Class 3 races cannot be exciting, but for an event that receives this amount of hype, you’d expect a race or two to live up to the billing.
It’s fair to say that the racing is of a competitive nature, rather than exceptional. Nevertheless, prize money is more than reasonable, and the event is likely to attract a crowd in the region of 30,000.
The event was first held at Goodwood in 1999, but came to Ascot in 2000. Victories have been pretty evenly split between the teams, though the girls having only recently entered the fray, have some catching up to do.
If it were my decision, I’d happily return to Ireland, GB, Europe and Rest Of The World as the four teams, with jockeys from both sexes making up the team members. The class of racing and standard of horses must also improve if this event is to thrive.
I’m simply not sure, that during such a hectic Flat racing campaign, this particular event will ever be seen as much more than a pleasant day’s racing on a summer’s afternoon. And maybe that’s enough for all concerned. It certainly has some way to go before it can truly be trumpeted as ‘The Worlds Premier International Jockey’s Competition’.