Oli Bell provides his ITV Racing selections and expects Hayley Turner to claim the Silver Saddle award for the leading rider at the Shergar Cup.
The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is a day like no other in the racing calendar, with Ascot brimming yet again with colour, vibrancy and a fantastic atmosphere.
It’s a meeting I genuinely look forward to. It’s a huge amount of fun and you only have to look at the reaction of Emma-Jayne Wilson when the Girls team won it a few years ago and when Hayley Turner guided Early Morning to victory 12 months ago to see what it means to those involved.
It’s a meeting racing really should embrace - and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing on ITV4 this Saturday. The Opening Show kicks off proceedings at 9.00am, with Emma-Jayne and Hayley two of three jockeys on the programme, alongside Kerrin McEvoy.
Lucy Verasamy and Matt Chapman will bring us the latest weather and betting news respectively, before our afternoon coverage boasting nine races from Ascot, Haydock and Newmarket starts on ITV4 at 12.30.
Take a look at who I’m backing this weekend, including a familiar face for the Alistair Haggis Silver Saddle (Hayley Turner 10/1 with Sky Bet), awarded to the day’s top points-scoring rider at Ascot.
Mirza wins this one for me. His form this year has been rock solid, finishing fifth at Musselburgh in June behind Line Of Reason in first, Kimberella third and Caspian Prince fourth. The latter two horses have both won big races this year.
Rae Guest’s 10-year-old then went on to finish second behind Battaash at Sandown last month.
Lexington Abbey, who is likely to be there or thereabouts at the top of the market, has run well but has never won off a mark this high. Pipers Note is consistent and should challenge, but I definitely want to take on the top two.
Mirza has Fran Berry on board, which is a good thing even if I do seem to tip him up every week. I honestly think Mirza is an outstanding bet. He likes soft ground so if the going is that way, it’s good news. He’s ran in both the Prix du Cercle and the Prix de Saint-Georges so has Group race experience and his run behind Battaash seems to be the best form on offer.
I know people will say Mirza is back in handicap company and will have to lump the weight, but in October last year he won a handicap at Leicester with a pound lower mark. He can carry weight in handicaps and ultimately class will win this race. Green Door is his biggest danger given that he bounced back at Goodwood last time out and will have conditions to suit.
I think Swashbuckle is the one to be on here. He finished third in a race won by Graceland over course and distance in May and having done far too much too soon then I think he did really well in the circumstances.
He came back to win at Salisbury last time out at the end of June, with the performance making it a good piece of form. I think the four-year-old might get the run of the race under Neil Callan, getting an easy time of it out front. Even though Swashbuckle is headstrong, I think he’ll be hard to beat if he gets a head start.
Andrew Balding is in great form at the moment and is producing some fantastic horses at just the right time. I’m reliably informed that Graceland’s jockey Keita Tosaki is very talented, but was also a gifted baseball player, even catching the attention of the New York Yankees.
However, I can’t see them beating Swashbuckle to first base, who has strong claims at reversing the form from earlier in the summer.
Berrahri and Euchen Glen are stepping up to two miles for the first time and while they have been in good form I would rather go with a horse that I know is going to stay the trip.
I saw a video of Megan Nicholls riding Zubayr in work this week and she was pretty complimentary of the form he’s in.
He's clearly a big player, but I think Azari is interesting, with headgear on. If you put a line through his run last time out, I believe this horse could run well at a big price. Before that outing in mid-July, Tom Dascombe’s five-year-old was second at York with just a neck in it.
There’s not too much in the market between Azari and Zubayr in the market but I would rather go with a horse like the former, wearing headgear and looking to return to form in what is a very competitive race.
I’d even be tempted by Jacbequick - a horse that doesn't mind cut in the ground - if I was looking for a longer price.
I think Mukhayyam will win this one, having won his last two starts very well. Hayley takes the ride for the Girls and although it’s a step up for Tim Easterby’s horse, he’s one to be reckoned with.
If you speak to Racing UK pundit Eddie Freemantle, he has a good point about how you shouldn't be dismissive of the form of horses that run mostly in the north and then head south, because the statistics stand up pretty well.
The dominance of Mukhayyam’s wins at York and Ripon on good to firm ground and soft ground respectively lend me to think that this five-year-old is a pretty good horse with more to come.
The favourite Niblawi is respected after a second over course and distance last time out, but in the market Mukhayyam offers better value and has an equal claim. This is a race I think the Girls can dominate with Hayley first past the post again.
I’m finding it hard to warm to anything in this race other than the favourite Laraaib. He's a course and distance winner and impressed last time out ahead of Banditry, Reaver and Sinfonietta.
The other horses are okay, but you can find reasons why you would want to take them on. Although Laraaib hasn’t proved himself up to the level of his rivals, I think he’s got enough latent talent to extend past them.
I’d rather be on him at the top of the market than try to take him on. Nothing really leaps off the page at a bigger price either, so I’m playing it with a straight bat and knocking it back to the bowler with the favourite.
I’m expecting Examiner to run well at a big price and could help Hayley have a pretty good day.
Examiner is a just a solid horse and although his form has been a little up and down this year, when you go through his runs you see performances like his fourth behind Not So Sleepy, Innocent Touch and What About Carlo at Epsom on Oaks day.
That was a fine run and he’s won at Salisbury since. The key with this horse is that the ground mustn’t get too quick. But I don’t think it will. Examiner is a horse that was third in the Cambridgeshire a few years ago and I think he’s a massive price. He’s my bet of the day.
Contango is a very good horse and the favourite will take a lot of beating. The step up in trip to almost a mile and a half will really suit him and he was really impressive at Newmarket when a winner by 11 lengths last time out.
I was at Leicester when he made a winning start to his career in June and he really left a mark with me. Andrew Balding’s hope has subsequently won at Chester and Newmarket. He probably doesn't want the ground too quick but he’s a proper horse and is improving.
Kasperenko is a typical David Lanigan improver and the two hold the key to the race. David’s very good at getting a horse to come through the ranks and win handicaps.
I think Contango is very talented and Kasperenko is very well handicapped. I know it’s not very entertaining to go for the top two, but they will be the ones fighting it out at the finish.
I was at Newmarket for Poetic Charm’s win at the July meeting and was very impressed in the manner of her success, even though she was still very green.
I remember Will Buick walking in past me and I just looked to him and said "she’s pretty good, isn’t she?" He replied "she’s proper" and although we shouldn’t treat that as gospel, you have to take note of it.
I like Dance Diva a lot and I think she’s talented, but although Poetic Charm has ran just once and it’s a big step up in class I think she’s a good horse with a good chance.
I’ve tipped Hayley twice so far and plan on doing so again - not only for this race, but also for the Silver Saddle. So, no pressure! (She is 50/1 with Sky Bet to ride three or more winners)
Private Matter is a three-year-old son of Mayson and was victorious on soft ground in France last October. This year he just hasn't fired and he’s had a pretty miserable season. But with a combination of easy-ish ground and the hood back on, I think this Richard Fahey-trained horse could take advantage of a declining mark.
Private Matter was rated 106 after his win in France and is now 96. There’s no reason why he can’t get back on track at a decent price. There are questions about a lot of the horses at the top of the market as well. Nobly Born will go off as favourite and will be hard to beat, but Private Matter will run will at a big price.