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Rowleyfile Investigates: The Importance of Jockeyship in the Shergar Cup
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Rowleyfile Investigates: The Importance of Jockeyship in the Shergar Cup

Simon Rowlands takes a look at the records of the different teams in the Shergar Cup, which is set to take place at Ascot on Saturday.

Horseracing fans have an uncanny ability of taking diametrically opposed views about the same thing. It probably reflects the legitimate diversity of choices in the betting world – every outcome is possible, and there is no right or wrong – and arguably reflects the “broad church” nature of the sport.

Take the BBC documentary series “Britain At The Bookies”, which concluded this week. To some, it was an abhorrence, which twisted the subject matter and was biased towards one aspect of the betting industry or another. To others, it was a much-needed reality check, depicting betting honestly in all its glorious (and inglorious) light and shade.

Much of the footage of the final episode – ominously titled “Going To The Dogs” – shone an unforgiving light on individuals with a remarkable capacity for self-deception. In amongst the compulsive gamblers, the criminals and the PR men, the most tragic figure of all in this desperate and joyless world, for my money, was John, a New Properties Manager for a leading bookmaker.

At one point, without any apparent sense of self-awareness, John attempted to depict down-at-heel Hayes as some sort of affluent Hampstead of the West-London suburbs that simply had to have yet another betting shop on its High Street. This plan was eventually scuppered by the local YMCA, one of the few individuals or bodies to come out of the series with reputation enhanced.

Never mind details of a gambling helpline, the producers should have given out a contact number at the end of the programme for those who have sold their souls in the corporate world.

The Shergar Cup at Ascot is another thing which divides opinion. It is a team event for leading jockeys from around the world, and is either a ghastly gimmick or a bit of fun which promotes the sport of horseracing to a wider population, depending on your leaning. I tend towards the latter view.

If you don’t like the Shergar Cup, then look elsewhere: no-one is forcing you to watch it or bet upon it. Many others do like the Shergar Cup, and attendances and media coverage have been healthy throughout the event’s existence.

Betting on the event is undoubtedly made somewhat trickier by an unfamiliarity with all of the participants, but that, in itself, possibly provides an angle.

The dozen jockeys are divided into teams representing Europe, Great Britain and Ireland, The Rest of The World and The Girls. Ignoring for now the casual sexism of the last-named category, the true divisions are arguably between those who regularly ply their trade on racecourses in Britain and those who do not.

The former group have accounted for about a third of the total rides in recent years and are represented this year by Adam Kirby and Jamie Spencer from Great Britain and Ireland, and by Cathy Gannon and Hayley Turner from “The Girls”.

There is not a lot between the two groups in terms of performance over the last five years taken overall. British-based riders have accounted for 48.2% of their rivals (104 rides) compared to 51.5% for non-British-based riders (194 rides). That does at least suggest that a blunt prejudice against the latter would be misplaced.

The figures are arguably more interesting when divided into longer-distance (beyond a mile) and shorter-distance (up to and including a mile) races. There is nothing in it for longer-distance races, but non-British jockeys have fared better at shorter distances, accounting for 53.0% of their rivals (96 rides) compared to 46.4% (52) for British-based rivals.

This may, or may not, make some intuitive sense: racing takes place over a wider variety of distances in Britain than almost anywhere else, and British-based riders are very likely to be more experienced at riding in longer-distance races than non-British-based riders on the whole.

This apparent effect may be manifested in the betting itself. While non-British-based riders have shown a loss at Betfair Starting Price at both short and long distances, British-based jockeys have been profitable at longer distances but highly unprofitable at shorter (though these figures are subject to a good deal of variance).

You may, then, want to pay special attention to the mounts of Kirby, Spencer, Gannon and Turner in the 16f Stayers, the 12f Challenge and the 12f Classic on Saturday’s card at Ascot.

Then again, you may want to have nothing to do with the event. The choice is yours, and you can be responsible for who you are and what you do, be that in the betting market or in life more widely.

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