x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Horse racing: Gary Stevens will know who is calling at Shergar Cup

Hall of Fame jockey will keep his ears open for Rosie Napravnik's ride during the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup in Ascot, England, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

American Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, riding for the 'Rest of the World' team, poses for a portrait ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup in Ascot, England. Harry Engels / Getty Images
American Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, riding for the 'Rest of the World' team, poses for a portrait ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup in Ascot, England. Harry Engels / Getty Images

ASCOT, ENGLAND // Gary Stevens will know Rosie Napravnik is bearing down on him in any of the six races in Saturday's Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup because America's most distinguished female rider makes a "high-pitch smoochy" noise to coax along her mounts during races.

He will know Keiren Fallon is swooping fast and late on him because the six-time British champion jockey likes to whistle loudly at his horses.

With jockeys jetting in from all over the world for the idiosyncratic team event Stevens is expecting it to be like a menagerie at the Royal racetrack this afternoon.

"I won't tell you what my calls are because they are secrets but we all have different ways," the 50-year-old American rider said.

"You know who it is when they are behind you. With Kieran it is like a robin or a blue jay calling, others are like an eagle or a falcon – they all have different cries and they are all like birds of prey coming at you."

Stevens is the oldest of the 12 riders competing at Ascot today, and he whisks through the calling sounds of the jockeys he has ridden alongside in a career that began in 1979.

Showing his age he harkens back to Eddie Delahoussaye, who won five Triple Crown races in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Napravnik was only just born when Delahoussaye won the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes on Risen Star in 1988.

Napravnik is not quite the youngest in the line-up – she turned 25 in February, but in terms of success she outstrips Britain's man of the moment who rode a treble at Royal Ascot last month.

She collected her first Classic victory last year when partnering Believe You Can in the Kentucky Oaks and went on to score at the Breeders' Cup with Shanghai Bobby in the Juvenile.

Where Doyle, who turned 25 on April 22, has ridden at a strike-rate of 15 per cent in Britain this year, Napravnik has guided 23 per cent of her mounts into the winners' enclosure in 2013.

Doyle, however, has on his CV last year's Dubai Duty Free, collected on Cityscape at Meydan Racecourse, whereas Saturday's event will be the first time Napravnik has performed outside of the US.

He also has the distinct advantage of knowing Ascot well.

Stevens said Napravnik will have no problems adapting to Ascot's configuration, and analysed her riding style as a pundit on America's HRTV, Stevens is well placed to offer an appraisal of her talent.

"She is still learning and improves every time that I see her from week to week," he said.

"I have got to watch her as a pundit since she started and now I have got to ride with her and, believe me, when I go out on the racetrack she is somebody I know where she is at.

"If I have an opportunity to put her some place where she doesn't want to be I take that opportunity. She is going to get better. Don't take that a as negative.

"She has no weaknesses."

The perfectionist Napravnik refutes Stevens's suggestion she has no limitations.

As Stevens indicated, men have continually tried to put Napravnik at a disadvantage, and only now has she realised that manipulation must be part of a female jockey's extensive armoury.

"I think everybody has weaknesses," she said.

"I have improved immensely over the past four years and I need to continue to sharpen my skills and a lot of that is strategic.

"To put someone into a position whereby they are at a disadvantage or you are at an advantage was not something I learned until well into my career.

"The more you study racing the more you can anticipate a scenario and how a race may set up and where you should be."

As an illustration of her outflanking manoeuvrability, when asked to replicate the noise she makes during race riding the New Jersey native shoots back: "Every jockey makes a noise. If you were going to make a 'high-pitch smoochy noise', how would you do it?"

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