Ascot Racecourse on Saturday, Aug. 10 enjoyed one of its most colorful days of the year with the popular international jockey competition – the 19th Shergar Cup Challenge, currently sponsored by Dubai Duty Free. Representing Japan this year in not just one of the four teams, but two, were the Ritto-based Yuga Kawada on the Rest of the World team and Miho's Nanako Fujita with the Girls.
Both teams did brilliantly, with the Rest of the World, consisting of Kawada, Hong Kong's Vincent Ho Chak-Yiu and Australian Mark Zahra, bringing home 86 points for top spot and with it the Shergar trophy. With 63 points each, the Girls finished as joint runners-up with Europe, while Great Britain and Ireland came in last with 28.
Hayley Turner, who is known as the most successful female jockey in Britain to date, was the only jockey to win more than one race on Saturday. She was victorious in both the Stayers and the Classic and, with a whopping 40 points, took home the Silver Saddle individual award for a historic second year in a row.
The Shergar Cup is made up of six races on the flat – the Dash, Stayers, Challenge, Mile, Classic and Sprint – and this year the prize money on each was raised from 45,000 pounds sterling to 60,000. Each field numbered 10. The riders wear the colors of their teams, not the horses' owners, and receive points for finishing in the first five places, starting with 15 points for a win and on down to three points for fifth place. Riders each receive event prize money of 20,000 pounds sterling in addition to their prize money percentages and they each ride five races. This year's event was held on good going under cloudy skies with some rainfall and strong winds that forced the cancellation of the post-race concert. The races took place between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time.
The Shergar Cup was named after the ill-fated champion racehorse Shergar, who won the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes all in 1981 before being retired as a 3-year-old. In 1983, he was stolen from stud with a ransom on his head and never found again. The international jockey event was first held at Goodwood Racecourse in 1999, but moved to Ascot the following year, where it has brightened the summer season every year except in 2005 when Ascot closed due to renovations.
It was the second time since 2016 that the Rest of the World team topped the competition. Three years ago, Kenichi Ikezoe helped boost his team to victory by riding back-to-back second-place finishes in the event's first two races. This year, though Japan's hopefuls were unable to notch a win, they were still able to contribute to their respective teams.
Kawada's notched his first third (worth 7 points) aboard a 6-year-old named Zwayyan in the Mile when he finished only a neck behind the runnerup. His second third-place finish came in the Sprint 1 length behind the runnerup on the 3-year-old Woven. Adding to that a fourth-place in the Stayers, Kawada was able to finish with 19 points total. Fujita totaled 8 points for the day, with her best a fourth partnered with the 5-year-old Koeman in the Challenge, and a fifth-place finish with the 3-year-old Zuba in the Classic. Kawada did not ride in the Classic, Fujita had no horse in the Sprint.
Kawada, who currently tops Japan's jockeys for wins, had been named captain of the Rest of the World team, the first captain from Japan since Yutaka Take in 2012, another year the Rest of the World team won. "I didn't have a great day myself, but my other teammates were very successful and rode very well, each winning a race," Kawada said. "I came here last year during a trip to England and it has been great to catch up with people. It's been good to meet new people too and has been a fun day. There's a great atmosphere, a great result, and I am thrilled to have been the captain. I hope I can come back next year."
It was Kawada's second time riding at Ascot, following his debut on July 14 last year. "I'm really happy that we as a team were able to win. The three of us were talking," he said of his teammates, "and I said I really wanted to win the last race. None of us were on popular horses and I hadn't won anything up to then. So, I think, with my third in the last race, I was finally able to contribute a bit."
Nanako Fujita, who had just turned 22 years old the day before the event, was making her debut at racing's hallowed ground. "It was a very good experience even though it was disappointing and frustrating that I wasn't able to win a race. But, I was able to experience racing that's different from what's in Japan," the Ibaraki native who currently ranks No. 30 among JRA riders said. "It was my first time and I was tense, so I can't actually say that I had fun. I realize I've really got to really buckle down with my riding. I learned a lot from the Shergar Cup and I'm going to apply that to my riding when I return to Japan."This year's Great Britain and Ireland team was made up of captain Tadhg O'Shea, Irish-born but a champion in the UAE, Scotsman Danny Tudhope and Jamie Spencer from Ireland. The Europe team consisted of Frenchman Gerald Mosse, ace of the Netherlands Adrie de Vries and German champion and team captain Filip Minarik.