Frankie Dettori, Kieren Fallon and Aidan O'Brien, three masters of their trades, all got it just right yesterday after a week of chess-move jockey-go-round activity.
In the lead-up to the afternoon's showpieces, the St Leger and the Irish Champion Stakes, Dettori had removed himself from the back of Motivator in Ireland to land on Scorpion's on Town Moor, a saddle vacated by Fallon, who had opted to ride Oratorio in his rematch against the Derby winner. And in the space of 20 minutes, everyone was a winner.
For Town Moor, read drown more. The 229th St Leger was run on sodden ground through driving rain, putting a premium of the qualities of endurance and determination that the oldest, longest and undeniably toughest Classic demands.
Scorpion proved he had what was needed in terms of courage and competitive spirit, plus that ephemeral ingredient, class, as he took the £261,000 first prize by a length from The Geezer.
Dettori took control of the marathon from the off, setting an ordinary early pace on the 10-11 favourite before starting to wind things up on the descent from Rose Hill. As he swung into the straight to face the uncompromising gallop of more than half a mile to the line, his five rivals began to square their shoulders, but Scorpion was always their master.
The powerful bay put daylight between himself and the others inside the final quarter-mile and then came the only heart-stopping moment. A furlong out, asked for a last effort, Scorpion's hind legs went into a wheelspin in the mud, and he jinked. But his loss of balance was momentary; in an instant he was on an even keel and Dettori's third St Leger, and 10th Classic in Britain, was assured.
The Geezer, from the David Elsworth yard, was the last to challenge, and his effort was worthy, but all he did was stay on.
Five lengths back, the John Dunlop-trained Tawqeet beat his stablemate Kong for third place, the pair followed in by the second-favourite, Hard Top. The time was the slowest since Boucher outslogged Our Mirage in 1972.
"It was hard to judge the pace out there," said Dettori. "It was very deep, and he [Scorpion] would probably be better on good ground, he has a great stride.
"He lost his footing behind when I grabbed hold of him to say 'come on, let's go and win'. But he wanted to please me so much he dug deep like a true champion, and I felt if something had really come at him he would have pulled out even more."
Dettori had secured the spare ride on Scorpion on the bird-in-the-hand principle after his intended partneship with Motivator was put in doubt by drying conditions in Ireland earlier in the week. His first victory in the navy Ballydoyle silks, rather than the royal blue of the Godolphin, was akin to Thierry Henry being lent to Manchester United for the day and scoring the winner.
"I do have mixed emotions," added the Italian. "It feels a bit peculiar to win for the main opposition. But at one point it was unlikely that Motivator was going to run, and I wanted a guaranteed good ride for today."
Modern breeding fashions decreed that though the Derby winner was in action yesterday, it was not here, in the traditional mile-and-three-quarter finale to the Classic season, but over the mile and a quarter of Ireland's premier all-aged race. But once again Michael Bell's charge found Oratorio, who had beaten him in the Eclipse Stakes in July, too strong.
Kevin Darley - who had earlier made all the running on Attraction to beat Chic in the Matron Stakes - had sent the strongly galloping Motivator to the front two furlongs out, but his old rival's speed in the finish over the shorter trip was half a length too good. Alexander Goldrun was just a head behind in third.
Once again, Fallon excelled on Oratorio, a hard ride in that he has to be rousted and driven for most of a race before engaging top gear.
"Unbelievable," said O'Brien. "Since the Eclipse, it has been day to day whether he'd run here. But he always gives his best."
Motivator's next date will be in Paris on the first Sunday in October in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, for which he is joint-favourite with Hurricane Run, narrow conqueror of Scorpion in the Irish Derby.
"We were thrilled today," said Bell. "This was a proper horse race. and it's all systems go to Longchamp."
Hurricane Run, like Motivator and the St Leger hero a first-crop son of the stallion sensation Montjeu, puts his credentials on the line this afternoon in the Prix Niel, one of three trials over the big-race course and distance and the most informative, having spotlighted eight of the last 10 Arc winners.Reuse content