For once in these feuding, striking times, a jockey stood in the spotlight here yesterday for the right reasons. Jamie Spencer, one of the precocious talents of the weighing room, dismounted from Brian Boru, winner of the 227th St Leger, with tears in his eyes. This was n to do with not being able to phone his agent on his mobile, though. His thoughts were for his friend and weighing-room colleague, Kieran Kelly, who was killed in action over the jumps last month.
"A Classic race for a classic fella," said the young Irishman. It was a soundbite made in heaven, but said with such simple feeling there was no doubting its sincerity. It is not just on the barricades that riders, who ply such a high-risk trade, are as one.
Spencer may have let emotion get to him in the aftermath, but during the race he was the original iceman on the Aidan O'Brien-trained 5-4 favourite. He settled the bonny bay, one of the better lookers in a largely undistinguished field, at the back as outsider Gold Medallist set a brisk gallop, and was still stone last as the 12 runners set their heads to face the long, daunting run for home.
The straight here is no place for the faint-hearted but if ever it can be judged easy, it probably was yesterday, with the ground drying out by the minute under a blazing sun that prompted the thought that the old adage about winter coming in on the tail of the last horse in the St Leger may have to be revised.
It soon became apparent that Brian Boru was travelling supremely easily and Spencer had all moves covered. The first in front of him came when the other Irish challenger, Maharib, went on two furlongs out, the second when Martin Dwyer sent High Accolade past him. That lead, though, was brief enough; Brian Boru, though a lazy type who had to be strongly rousted, not only outstayed but outclassed his rivals.
Phoenix Reach plugged on for third, splitting High Accolade and Maharib, with the filly Moments Of Joy a never-threatening fifth. And as Brian Boru gave 23-year-old Spencer his first Classic winner in Britain 51-year-old Pat Eddery's career in such races ended with a 10th place on Westmoreland Road.
It was Brian Boru's first success since he took the Racing Post Trophy 11 months ago at this course, a performance which earned him winter favouritism for the Derby. It was also a rare enough Group One win for O'Brien this year and the first of the campaign for the Ballydoyle maestro with a three-year-old colt.
It takes a deal of character to admit fault, but that is one quality not lacking in the man from Tipperary, whose mild exterior hides a steely resolve, and he blames himself for the stable's relatively poor season. "We tried a few new little things with the horses in the spring," he said. "We altered their way of working, and changed their physical outline and musculature. We are always trying to improve but we didn't know whether this would be for better or worse; it turned out to be worse. But after they had a break in the summer they've come on in leaps and bounds."
Brian Boru, who had finished 16th in the Derby and fourth in the Irish version, was runner-up to his stablemate, Powerscourt, in his St Leger trial at York last month. Inappropriately for one named after an 11th-century warrior king of all Ireland, his resolve in a fight has been questioned.
But O'Brien will have none of that. "It's the way he gallops," he said. "He has such a long, flowing reach with his limbs that it appears that his head is going up and his tail is swishing." Spencer concurs. "He is very game and I never doubted he'd get past the ones in front," he said. "I had to get after him a bit, but it's because he was idling in front, not shirking."
Next stop for the white-legged son of Sadler's Wells with the crooked white stripe on his face will probably be a drop back to a mile and a half in next month's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, as second string to High Chaparral. No hero of the oldest, longest and toughest Classic has gone on to glory in Paris, but O'Brien's previous winner Milan gave a good account in fifth two years ago.
For all the sterling qualities needed to win a St Leger, the race is still derided as an anachronism by the breeding industry tail that increasingly wags the racing dog. But without the spectacle, the sport would be nothing and the industry behind it less, so consider these statistics. Before this year, the past 10 2,000 Guineas winners ran a further 31 times, won nine further races, of which six were Group One events. The equivalent St Leger winners ran another 95 times for 22 victories, including 10 at the highest level. As to which group provides most entertainment value, there is no contest.
Last year's Doncaster hero, Bollin Eric, was unable to improve on that record when only fourth at the Curragh yesterday to Vinnie Roe, who landed his third successive Irish St Leger.
The last Derby winner to run in the St Leger, Reference Point back in 1987, won it. But this year's Epsom hero, Kris Kin, has followed modern fashion and is on duty at Longchamp today, where the encounter with his French counterpart, Dalakhani, in the Prix Niel is the highlight of the Paris track's three Arc trials.Reuse content