Hills has his Leger favourite stoked up

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The Independent Online

Sadly for the sponsors, a round dozen entries, and not a pack of 20, remain in Saturday's Rothmans St Leger after the five-day declaration stage yesterday, when the tobacco firm also announced that its association with the oldest Classic will continue until at least 2004. This might seem uncomfortably appropriate for a race which has been wheezing along like a 40-a-day puffer for many years, but the Doncaster executive can at least take comfort from the fact that the latest renewal should be an excellent betting heat, with three horses locked together at the head of the market.

Mot Juste, the runner-up in the Irish Oaks, was the only significant name to be removed from the reckoning yesterday, with the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp on Sunday likely to be her alternative engagement. Milan, Mr Combustible and Alexius, the three contenders available only at single-figure odds, are all still engaged, along with And Beyond, the Queen's Vase winner, and Demophilos, who was added to the field at the supplementary stage on Saturday at a cost of £20,000.

How many of the 12 entries will make it to the post at Town Moor on Saturday remains unclear. The Irish St Leger, which this season will be run on the same day as the original version, is a significant alternative attraction, and a number of Doncaster entries could run at the Curragh instead.

Aidan O'Brien, who has four colts still in at Doncaster, has said that either Milan or Mediterranean will run in Ireland, while Pugin, who is trained by John Oxx, also has the option of staying at home. O'Brien will not make a decision before tomorrow on which of his colts – Saddler's Creek and Life Match are the others – run where.

Mr Combustible, who was fourth to Galileo in the Derby and won the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury last time, is the narrow favourite for the Leger with most bookmakers, and was yesterday reported to be in excellent health by Barry Hills, his trainer, who won the race with the 40-1 Moonax in 1994. "He worked well on Saturday and is in good form," Hills said at Bath races, where he drew a blank from four runners. Hills also confirmed that his son Michael will take the ride at Town Moor, while Kevin Darley has been booked for Mark Johnston's And Beyond, who has not run since his victory at Ascot's Royal meeting.

"And Beyond cantered with Double Honour and Darasim [this morning] and I was pleased with him," Deirdre Johnston, the trainer's wife, said. "He worked on Saturday morning before Mark left [for the Keeneland Sales] so it is just a question of keeping him ticking over and keeping our fingers crossed. Ideally we could do with a drop of rain at Doncaster."

Nottingham racecourse will never stage a Classic, but it provided a moment of history yesterday when Madame Jones won the first division of the Arnold Palmer Handicap, her 10th handicap success this season. It is more than a century since a horse last managed to reach double figures for handicaps won in a single campaign, and the win took David Evans's mare one clear of the six horses since 1985 who have managed nine in a season. Yesterday's race was Madame Jones's 40th this year – she raced three times last week alone – and it seems unlikely that she has finished yet.

"She is better on the all-weather," Evans said. "Someone said to me, 'when are you ever going to stop with her?', and I said, 'at the end of this year, when she has won 13'."

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