Racing: Motivator may miss encounter with Azamour

Weather permitting, that is. Warnings were issued yesterday that the Michael Bell-trained colt, last seen when beaten by Oratorio in the Eclipse Stakes, would miss his date in Ireland if the ground remains as it is, firm. "He won't run unless the ground is good or easier," said Harry Herbert, manager to the owners, "and I would have to say at this point he is a highly unlikely starter unless there is rain or suitable watering."

With a dry week forecast, Bell is to travel to Co Dublin tomorrow to inspect underfoot conditions. Motivator, whose prime target is the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, holds entries on Sunday in the Prix Niel at Longchamp and the Select Stakes at Goodwood, and in Newbury's Arc Trial the following Saturday, but is unlikely to take them up. "If he doesn't run in Ireland, we'll probably go straight to Paris," added Herbert. "He's a horse who doesn't need a lot of work."

Could Motivator rationalise such things, he may, in fact, be glad to be anywhere but Doncaster. The St Leger is the oldest Classic, first run in 1776, the longest Classic, an extended mile and three-quarters, and undoubtedly the toughest Classic; no quarter can be given or asked down its uncompromising final straight of more than half a mile. It is not an examination to be taken on lightly.

It has become fashionable in some quarters to mock the contest as an anachronism but not, tellingly, among the ranks of the cleverest professionals. The old adage about the fittest horse winning the Guineas, the luckiest the Derby and the best the St Leger no longer holds true but into its fourth century the race still asks important questions of the three-year-old stayers and provides a fine spectacle.

Saturday's field will be one of the least populated of recent years, for only seven remain to tackle the £450,000 purse after yesterday's penultimate declaration stage. But although quantity is lacking, quality may not be, for the hot favourite, Scorpion, a close runner-up in the Irish Derby for his Ballydoyle connections and afterwards winner of the Grand Prix de Paris in record time, is held in the highest regard by no less a judge than Sir Michael Stoute, saddler of second market choice Hard Top.

"I think the favourite is a worthy one and he could be a very good colt indeed," he said yesterday of the son of Montjeu. "I would have a very healthy respect for Scorpion."

The St Leger is - as has been well, and as far as Stoute is concerned, rather tiresomely, documented - the one Classic not yet on his CV. His 19 previous runners have yielded five seconds, most recently Quiff, beaten a head by Derby runner-up Rule Of law last year.

Though Reference Point, in 1987, was the last Epsom hero to both run in and win a St Leger, the Blue Riband has supplied seven Doncaster victors since then. Hard Top, by Darshaan, is the most recent winner of the best post-Derby trial, the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York, on only his third public appearance. "We threw him in at the deep end," added Stoute, "and he acquitted himself very well. He'll be fresh, and he may be sharp enough mentally as he was trapped on the fence for a while and had a good, tough battle. The St Leger trip should be no problem for him, but I don't see any problems with Scorpion getting it either."

Hard Top will be reopposed on Saturday by the trio who followed him in at York, David Elsworth-trained The Geezer, Scorpion's stablemate Avalon (for whom Jamie Spencer was booked yesterday) and Kong, who may be accompanied by Tawqueet from John Dunlop's yard. The St Leger field is completed by the one with the best Derby form, Hattan. Clive Brittain's charge finished sixth to Motivator, well ahead of The Geezer and tailed-off Kong, after leading until two furlongs out, but is seen as the 33-1 outsider for Saturday by race-sponsors Ladbrokes.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Fusili (Lingfield 1.50)

NB: Talbot Avenue

(Leicester 4.10)