Racing: Quiff can lay Stoute's ghosts

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The Independent Online

It has been well documented that Sir Michael Stoute has yet to capture a St Leger, despite sending 17 horses to the oldest, longest and toughest Classic. His most famous non-winner was Shergar, fourth at 4-9 in 1981; his most recent Highest, second two years ago.

It has been well documented that Sir Michael Stoute has yet to capture a St Leger, despite sending 17 horses to the oldest, longest and toughest Classic. His most famous non-winner was Shergar, fourth at 4-9 in 1981; his most recent Highest, second two years ago.

On Saturday, in the 228th renewal of the Doncaster marathon, he will try again to fill the blank on his CV, with Quiff and Maraahel. The usual suspects will be in opposition: the Godolphin team, with victories from Classic Cliche, Nedawi and Mutafaweq, will be represented by the favourite, Rule Of Law; John Dunlop, with trophies courtesy of Moon Madness, Silver Patriarch and Millenary, fields Let The Lion Roar; and Aidan O'Brien, a winner with Milan and Brian Boru, has nine of the 19 current entries.

And then there are a couple of contenders under less usual banners. Frank Sonata, from the bargain basement, will be a first runner in any domestic Classic for the Newmarket-based training brothers Mick and Noel Quinlan. The rangy bay was cheaply bought (a 10,000-guineas yearling) and unfashionably bred (by Opening Verse), and four of his five races this year have been in handicaps. But, with three increasingly progressive victories, he has thoroughly earned his place.

He once held the Derby engagement, but his development from two to three was disappointing. "He was a big, weak horse last year," said Noel, "and during the winter he didn't seem to be doing that well, so we took him out of the Derby. But oddly, the three-year-old handicaps this year have turned out to be solid.

"Those others in the Leger, with the sons of Sadler's Wells and the ones out of Group One mares, they've got more to fear, more to lose, more pressure. If the horse is good enough it doesn't matter where he's from or how he's bred. He certainly doesn't mind. And we don't give a sh** either."

Fighting talk, and the colt will get a fighting ride too, as a first Classic mount for Ryan Moore. Last season's champion apprentice has had a sensational start to his senior career, and lies in fifth place on the jockeys' leaderboard.

Darsalam is another groundbreaker, as the first runner from the Czech Republic in a Classic here. The chestnut, whose half-brother Moonax won 10 years ago, is trained near Prague by Arslangirej Savujev, an Uzbekhistani. But it will be a homecoming for Darsalam, who was rejected from Mark Johnston's yard last autumn and sold for 6,500 guineas at auction. He is unbeaten in his past five races, including the Viennese and Czech Derbys and the Czech St Leger.

It has become fashionable in some quarters to mock the St Leger as an anachronism, and the race will be overshadowed by the clash between Doyen, Grey Swallow and Rakti in the Irish Champion Stakes the same day.

But the cleverest professionals still want to win what is a formidable test and a fine spectacle. Khaled Abdullah's upwardly mobile Quiff, impressive in the Yorkshire Oaks, can lay a few ghosts of assorted ages at the expense of Rule Of Law and Frank Sonata. The daughter of Sadler's Wells and Wince can give Stoute his victory, become the first filly to win since User Friendly 12 years ago, and the first produce of a 1,000 Guineas winner to score since 1888.

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