This coming weekend is the one when traditionalists and modernisers come to blows about whether the oldest Classic, the St Leger, or the new kingmaker, the Irish Champion Stakes, should take centre stage. In truth, though, this should be simply a time for celebrating what is truly one of the key points in the 2004 Flat year, not just in the top-of-the-bill races at Doncaster and Leopardstown but in an enthralling renewal of the Group One Matron Stakes at the Irish track and a trio of fascinating Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe trials at Longchamp on Sunday.
As is so often the case, Godolphin hold the key, sending out Doyen, with Frankie Dettori on board, to reinforce his position as the season's outstanding performer in the Irish Champion and Kerrin McEvoy on the St Leger favourite Rule Of Law. McEvoy, incidentally but appropriately, rides the newcomer Promoted Deputy in the opener at Lingfield today.
Despite facing a challenge from the Irish Derby winner Grey Swallow, St James's Palace Stakes winner Azamour, France's near-unbeaten Bago and the monstrous talent of Rakti, Doyen dominates the betting and is a top-priced 11-8 for the race with Paddy Power.
Ladbrokes' spokesman, Balthazar Fabricius, said: "This horse really does set the standard. We made him 5-4 for the Hardwicke Stakes, 6-5 for the King George and he is currently 5-4 favourite for the Arc - in short, he's not a horse we are keen to take chances with."
On the Leopardstown undercard, Soviet Song and Attraction meet again in the Matron Stakes, the pair having first encountered each other in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket in July when Soviet Song dealt the dual Guineas heroine her first defeat in nine starts.
Attraction has since finished second to last on unsuitably soft ground at Deauville, but Deirdre Johnston, wife of the filly's trainer, Mark, posted an upbeat bulletin yesterday. "Attraction goes to Ireland as long as the ground stays fast," Johnston said. "She is in fabulous form. France was a non-event as there was a reason for her performance. She wasn't fourth or fifth, which would have left doubts."
Cashmans of Cork have issued match betting and make Soviet Song 4-6 to triumph again, with Attraction at 6-5.
The weather also holds the key to the St Leger, in which opposition to Rule Of Law could be reduced if the rains fail to arrive. Thirteen runners were declared at yesterday's five-day stage, including five from Aidan O'Brien's team, but Sir Michael Stoute's second favourite, Quiff, and John Gosden's Percussionist need cut in the ground in order to line up. The latter could be rerouted to Sunday's Prix Niel at Longchamp.
¿ Ryan Moore, last season's champion apprentice, reached 100 winners for the season at Bath yesterday on Simonda.
¿ Mick Channon's smart stayer Misternando is to be retired with a leg injury. The four-year-old notched 10 wins last year.
¿ The Irish Turf Club is to add a betting analyst to its security department to deal with the rise of betting exchanges.
St Leger (Doncaster, Saturday) Coral: 9-4 Rule Of Law, 7-2 Quiff, 11-2 Let The Lion Roar, 7-1 Maraahel, 8-1 Percussionist, Tycoon, 14-1 Frank Sonata, Two Miles West, 16-1 Go For Gold, 20-1 Albinus, 25-1 Mikado, 40-1 Acropolis, 50-1 Darsalam.
Irish Champion Stakes (Leopardstown, Saturday) Ladbrokes: 5-4 Doyen, 4-1 Grey Swallow, 5-1 Azamour, Rakti, 10-1 Bago, 14-1 Warrsan, 16-1 Powerscourt, 20-1 Norse Dancer, 33-1 others.
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