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York sharpening up for the big invasion; RACING.

THE good people of York were bracing themselves for not one, but two foreign invasions this week.

For along with the army of visiting southern racegoers, there will also be some of the fastest racehorses from around the world lining up on the Knavesmire at the Royal meeting, which starts today.

The racing itself might be taking place more than 200 miles away from Ascot, but officials at the Queen's track have been putting in the hours to make sure that as many high-quality thoroughbreds as possible find their way to York.

And with runners from Japan, Hong Kong and the USA being lined up for this afternoon's King's Stand Stakes or Saturday's Golden Jubilee Stakes, there is every chance a foreign raider could take the spoils home with them.

Australian sprinter Choisir showed two years ago exactly what could be done as he took both the King's Stand and Golden Jubilee, beating the best of the European speedsters twice in the space of five days.

Overnight, what Choisir achieved changed established ideas about what could be done with horses who had travelled halfway around the world.

His trainer Paul Perry was hoping to be back this year with Fastnet Rock, though those plans had to be abandoned when the horse failed to recover from a bout of travel sickness in time.

The horse had won the Lightning Stakes, one of six races that make up the new Global Sprint Challenge, of which Ascot are one of the founding fathers.

The idea, set up jointly by Ascot's personable head of public relations Nick Smith, former Ascot clerk of the course Nick Cheyne and Mark Player, now of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, is still at something of a foundation stage.

But the concept is of two races in each of three countries -- Australia, Britain and Japan - with the outright winner having to have competed on at least two continents.

The other antipodean race was the Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley, and that went to Hong Kong-trained Cape Of Good Hope.

He should be more familiar to British racegoers, having finished second in the King's Stand and third in the Golden Jubilee last year.

"I think that in Britain we have developed a rather cynical attitude towards racing series, but there is no doubt that the Global Sprint Challenge has been a real success in Australia and Japan," said Smith.

"The first question the winners of the two Australian races were asked was whether they would be coming to Ascot, and the Royal aspect of it is really important - people like to think they are coming to England by Royal invitation.

"There is definitely scope to expand it further in the years to come, possibly to the United States, where there are very few opportunities for their best turf sprinters."

American-trained Mighty Beau runs in the King's Stand this afternoon and is also in the Golden Jubilee, while the latter race also has Japanese hope Keeneland Swan. Cape Of Good Hope is again in both.

Smith explained the hard work that goes into attracting the foreign invaders.

"We keep in touch with them all on an almost-daily basis as it's important to keep the lines of communication open at all times," he said.

"The IRB (International Racing Bureau) do a tremendous job, liaising with the connections of our foreign horses, dealing with the smallest things to the biggest.

"Sometimes it can be easy to get cold feet and it's important that we keep in touch and let them know how much we are looking forward to having them coming over.

"That means making sure that their badges are sent over as early as possible and having things like morning dress all arranged in advance.

"The three races we have concentrated upon promoting are the Golden Jubilee, the Prince Of Wales's Stakes and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.

"We want the races at Ascot to attract the very best horses in the world."

It was Smith's personal touch that persuaded the owners and trainer of Prince Of Wales's Stakes hope Elvstroem to come to Europe in search of improving his stallion prospects.

After winning the Dubai Duty Free at Nad Al Sheba in March, part-owner Frank Tagg immediately nominated Royal Ascot as the horse's principal summer target.


CALM BEFORE THE STORM: Tony Martin's horse Leg Spinner takes a training spin in front of the unmistakable York backdrop
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 14, 2005
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