Alex Hammond blog: Racing League tips and Shergar Cup preview

Sky Sports Racing presenter Alex Hammond picks out her ones to watch as Racing League returns at Doncaster on Thursday.

Teamwork makes the dream work, or so the old saying goes. That theory will be put to the test this week with the launch of the remodelled Racing League and Saturday’s Shergar Cup at Ascot.

I’m lucky enough to be involved with both competitions in my role at Sky Sports Racing, and I’m really looking forward to them. It’s fair to say there was a great deal of scepticism ahead of, and during, last year’s inaugural Racing League, but we had a great deal of fun and I know that many of you enjoyed the ride too.

It is true that the 12 teams last year weren’t easy to relate to, unless you were a particular fan of cocktails for example, but that is one of the main changes this time round. The regional teams will stir the competitive juices and makes it easier to nail your colours to a particular mast. I’m Team Yorkshire!

Sky Bet have embraced the concept and are offering five places instead of three in all the challenging handicaps, which will be a big help, and have a host of specials on offer.

Team Yorkshire is 8/1 to lift the league outright. The East is 15/2 favourite to come out on top, but last year we expected Newmarket Red to do well, and they were a flop. This is starting from scratch, though, and there are strong representatives from that part of the country.

50/1 Osborne worth a bet for jockeys’ crown

The top jockey market is wide open with five riders sharing favouritism at 10/1. It’s worth looking away from some of the obvious names here, bearing in mind that some of the better-known jockeys have jobs that may keep them away from the League on a regular basis.

Saffie Osborne did well in the competition last year, finishing runner-up, and she will be keen to go one better. She can do light weights and will be popular with her 3lb claim. Sky Bet have her at 50/1 to be leading rider! Whoever you fancy to win the leading rider title, it may be worth looking outside the box.

One thing that was particularly enjoyable to see in 2021 was how hard fought these races were. With points down to 10th place in 2022, and a maximum 14 runners in each race, the jockeys will be keen to get every point they can get their hands on, and that makes for competitive racing that is fun to bet on.

Saffie Osborne
Image: Saffie Osborne was a leading contender in last year’s Racing League jockeys’ title

With over £2m in prize money on offer, we have some classy handicappers being aimed at the six fixtures too, and again that helps make the Racing League a fun product to get involved with.

So, who wins at Doncaster then? I have a few fancies through the evening and in the first race the pin has landed on top-weight Barley. I hope this progressive three-year-old can get Saffie Osborne off to a flyer for trainers Freddie and Martyn Meade and Wales and the West.

The Toff fancied to score for London & The South

Hayley Turner was interviewed on Sky Sports Racing midweek and it’s hard not to be swept along with her enthusiasm. She has been one of the most ardent supporters of team competitions in horseracing and was very keen on the chance of Fresh Hope in race 2 (6.10pm) for Charlie Fellowes and The East.

The jockey and trainer have enjoyed big-race success together and this filly ran a blinder at Royal Ascot. She should go well again here.

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Runner-up in last year’s jockeys’ standings, Hayley Turner heads to Doncaster for week one of Racing League with five top rides booked for team East

My main selection on the night is The Toff in the 6.40pm contest, the Nursery. Two-year-old handicaps have been introduced this year and whilst this field hasn’t attracted a maximum 14 runners, there are 11 declared to run and this horse moves into handicaps off a fair mark. Marco Ghiani rides for Charlie Hills (or London and the South – getting the hang of this yet?!).

Race 4 is another uber-competitive race, and I can’t decide between Juan Les Pins and Quest For Fun. I suppose the latter ought to get my vote representing Yorkshire.

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Ireland team manager Kevin Blake is expecting some selection headaches for this year’s Racing League with a strong jockey line-up, including Tom Marquand and Rossa Ryan

I’ve tipped up Alligator Alley in the past, expecting him to pop up in a decent race, as yet to no avail. His time will come, and it could well be in the five-furlong handicap at 7.40pm. He represents Team Ireland and is trained by an Irishman in David O’Meara, albeit one who is based in Yorkshire (just in case you were getting confused).

There are few trainers in better form than David Evans and he will be celebrating if Wind Your Neck In can prevail in the closing contest at 8.40pm. This is one for those five places that Sky Bet are offering, because he needs to bounce back from a couple of modest efforts but there are reasons to suggest that could happen, and at 20/1 he’s worth a chance.

International stars on show at Shergar Cup

After Donny it’ll be all systems go for the Shergar Cup at Ascot where there are a host of world-class jockeys taking part. To prove that team events in racing are no flash in the pan, this is the 21st edition of the event and there will be a huge crowd at Ascot to enjoy it.

There are jockeys from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Britain and Ireland taking part, with Frankie Dettori, Hayley Turner and Japan-based superstar Christophe Lemaire amongst them.

This is another event that those with an open mind can enjoy, not just the electric atmosphere, but the opportunity to get involved with the sort of racing we are trying to conjure up in British racing but seems to be a product that only those with longer memories can recall.

I’ll see you on both occasions where a fun time will hopefully be had by all.