Racing: Scorpion to foil Stoute's St Leger ambitions

Many of the best horses in Europe will be stretching their legs in the St Leger and the Irish Champion Stakes this afternoon, followed tomorrow by Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe trials day at Longchamp.

With deference to the elderly, it is the world's oldest Classic which must come first. At first glance, the 229th St Leger may not feature a field to get the adrenalin coursing, both in terms of numbers or quality, but the Leger is always a compelling race as the contestants haul themselves up the long Town Moor straight.

In addition, it may yet be that a truly outstanding performance will be returned by one of the relatively unexposed members of the seven-strong gathering.

The colt most likely to be at the head of affairs is Scorpion, who possesses the beacon form, having finished second in the Irish Derby and then collected the Group One Grand Prix de Paris. If he stays, and his pedigree says he should, then Frankie Dettori's mount looks impregnable.

It is interesting, though, that Aidan O'Brien has taken the trouble to also enter Avalon, the most inexperienced runner in the race. There is a neat twist to his participation, as Avalon is to be ridden by Jamie Spencer, the young jockey who found himself out in the fresh air with the door slammed behind him after an unfortunate tenure as No 1 jockey at Ballydoyle.

There is not much of the chastened Spencer left however as he flies high at the top of the jockeys' championship and is now reunited with the trainer for whom he won the St Leger on Brian Boru two years ago.

Avalon's latest effort was a third place behind another unfledged horse, Hard Top, in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. The latter is aiming to break one of the more puzzling trends in racing, Sir Michael Stoute's failure, after 19 attempts, to win a Leger. The Newmarket trainer been second five times, but Stoute is not one appeased by consolations.

The question that Stoute himself has asked this year is whether enough water has flown under Hard Top's bridge to make him competitive in a race as demanding as a St Leger.

There are the conflicting historical messages. The last two Leger winners have emerged from the Irish Derby, but then those horses also ran in the Great Voltigeur, a race which has provided the Classic winner in six of the last eight years.

The key horse, however, is one that is not even running in the race, Plea Bargain, who has been involved in skirmishes which tie in all the principals. On a line through him, Scorpion (next best 3.25) could well be an emphatic winner.

The other event of note on Town Moor is the Flying Childers, in which UPPER HAND (nap 2.50) appears unavoidable on the strength of his second to Always Hopeful in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood, particularly as that winner went on to play an integral part in the Prix Morny.

The high-calibre contest of the weekend is the Irish Champion Stakes, which features the Derby winner, his Eclipse conqueror and the best older horse in training, also the reigning champion. The recent rains at Leopardstown may have a fundamental effect on the race as the going now seems to have gone in Motivator's favour to the detriment of the favourite, Azamour. Other elements than the elements are against the latter. No horse has won the race twice and the last four market leaders have lost.

It is no two-horse race either, as Kieren Fallon stays in Ireland to partner Oratorio rather than continue his alliance with Scorpion.

Now as ever, though, the natural inclination is to side with a Derby winner, especially one as majestic as Motivator (3.55), especially as the ground will be just about perfect for him.

In France tomorrow, the Arc favourite, the colt which beat Scorpion in the Irish Derby, tunes up for the ultimate contest in the Bois de Boulogne. Hurricane Run has had more strenuous exercise gallops than it will take to win the Prix Niel.

Luca Cumani's Alkaased has an Arc reconnaissance mission in the Prix Foy, in company with the home giant, Shirocco, who is scheduled to make his debut for André Fabre. Formerly trained by Andreas Schutz, he bears persuasive form having beaten the International Stakes winner, Electrocutionist, in last year's Gran Premio del Jockey Club.

Cumani saddles Dash To The Top in the Prix Vermeille for a rematch with her impressive Irish Oaks conqueror, Shawanda, who carries the distinction of being the Aga Khan's probable Arc representative.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Upper Hand (Doncaster 2.50)

NB: Scorpion

(Doncaster 3.25)

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