Racing: Linas leaves York's Leger stage clear for Sixties Icon

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The Independent Online

The St Leger is the oldest and longest of the Classics, and also the toughest to contest. But where the 230th edition on Saturday week is concerned, the notion of last man standing is applying not so much to the finishing post at the end of a gruelling gallop, but the line-up. Yesterday, Linas Selection became the latest well-fancied contender to limp out of contention, following the recent defections of Septimus and Soapy Danger.

Like the last-named, who fractured his pelvis in last week's Great Voltigeur Stakes, Linas Selection is trained by Mark Johnston and owned by Renata Jacobs. He had been 10-1 fourth favourite with the race sponsors, Ladbrokes, after chasing home St Leger favourite Sixties Icon and Jadalee in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood earlier this month.

"He has had a minor setback, a problem which emerged after Goodwood," the Jacobs' family racing manager, Gary Coffey, said yesterday.

"It is unlikely he'll be seen on the track again this year." Soapy Danger is currently recovering after surgery.

Septimus had been second favourite for the Group One marathon before Aidan O'Brien ceded defeat at the weekend in his efforts to get the colt back on track after his 12th place in the Derby. There have been some negative vibes about the participation of the horse that replaced him in the market, the Great Voltigeur winner Youmzain, but the son of Sinndar was given a vote of confidence yesterday by Mick Channon.

Jaber Abdullah's colourbearer is already a winner over the St Leger distance, at Newmarket in July. "He has come out of the Voltigeur brilliant," Channon said. "This is a £250,000 prize for three-year-olds only. He's in the race to run as far as I'm concerned and it would be a complete no-brainer not to."

The St Leger this year has been re-routed to York for the second time in its history - Chamossaire won the last of the war-time runnings on the Knavesmire in 1945 - and will be 150 yards short of its traditional Doncaster distance of a mile, six furlongs and 127 yards.

Even so, connections of Red Rocks, a head behind Youmzain over 12 furlongs of the track eight days ago, are still on the fence about the step up in trip. The Galileo colt, who is the sole remaining entry with a Group One place to his name this year - his runner-up spot in the Grand Prix de Paris - may instead revert to 10 furlongs in the Champion Stakes. "We won't make a decision until next week," Brian Meehan said.

The chipping away of the entry has left Sixties Icon, who will work under the eye of the trainer Jeremy Noseda in Newmarket this morning, as a warm 5-4 favourite, with Youmzain at 4-1. Sixties Icon, owned by Susan Roy, is certainly bred for Classic glory, being a son Galileo, winner of the Derby, and Love Divine, heroine of the Oaks. There is a single precedent for such a union producing a St Leger winner, but not exactly a recent one. Memnon, winner on Town Moor in 1825, was by Whisker (1815 Derby) out of Manuella (1812 Oaks).

Sixties Icon is an entirely worthy clear market leader, even if by default, having finished five lengths seventh in the Derby on only his third racecourse appearance before his good third, on ground too firm, in the King Edward VII Stakes and his clear defeat of the subsequent March Stakes winner in the Goodwood trial.

But the St Leger is now hardly the spirited high-profile betting heat that the sponsors would favour. Bookmakers, though, apparently have a heart as well as a head, for taking on the venerable race - run on the same day as the much sexier, in the modern idiom, Irish Champion Stakes, was something of a Ladbrokes good deed, prompted by the firm's close links with Doncaster racecourse entrepreneurs, Arena Leisure, and the betting firm's chairman, Chris Bell, being Doncaster-born.

"The race had lurched from one drama to another, with various sponsors not producing the money," said Ladbrokes' PR director, Mike Dillon, "and, given it is the oldest Classic with a proud history, that was not what it deserved. We wanted to give it a bit of stability, get it back on an even keel. But we can't do anything about injuries and runners dropping out; that's horses, I'm afraid."

Noseda, who has held a licence for eight years in Britain, has yet to train the winner of a British Classic, at least not in his own name, having been with Godolphin in its early days of Lammtarra and Balanchine.

Until last Thursday Eric Alston, who has been training for 25 years, had not trained a Group One winner of any description. The horse who broke his duck, the Nunthorpe Stakes hero Reverence, is joint-favourite with Godolphin's Iffraaj among 20 current entries to make it two at the highest level in 10 days in the next Group One on the European rota, Saturday's Haydock Sprint Cup.

Chris McGrath

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