Racing: St Leger reverse for Yeats

Conventional wisdom proves expensive lesson for punters both sides of the Irish Sea
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The Independent Online

Those who relied on yesterday's two solid nuggets of perceived wisdom - that Yeats was a shoo-in to give Aidan O'Brien his first Irish St Leger, and that the winner of the Ayr Gold Cup would be drawn high - found themselves with only fool's gold. At the Curragh, Kastoria thwarted the 2-7 favourite by half a length. In Scotland Fonthill Road, at 16-1, came home virtually alone on the far side rail from his number six stall.

Stayers are now firmly established as popular icons, particularly in Ireland, where a horse like Vinnie Roe held the public in thrall with his four Irish St Leger victories. Yesterday's edition of the marathon was supposed to be an exhibition gallop for Yeats, impressively successful in the Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup, in front of the home fans before his journey to Australia for the Melbourne Cup.

That venture may now be in doubt. The five-year-old, uncharacteristically restive and sweaty before the race, took over from Percussionist in front five furlongs out and though he went clear in the straight as soon as Kieren Fallon asked, he failed to draw Kastoria's sting and the Aga Khan's mare, ridden by Mick Kinane, reeled him in quite competently as she pounced in the last half-furlong. The Whistling Teal plugged on for third.

"I thought we would run Yeats close," said winning trainer John Oxx. "Her homework has been terrific lately and she was getting the 3lb sex allowance. She'll always pull out a bit more if she has a target to aim at and you couldn't have a better one than Yeats."

A disappointed O'Brien said. "We'll have to see about Melbourne. Maybe he peaked earlier in the season." The Irish St Leger is a rare blank on O'Brien's CV, but in fairness it is not a race he has regularly targeted. The same cannot be said of today's Group One feature at the Curragh, the National Stakes. Six of the last ten winners of the seven-furlong contest have emerged from Ballydoyle, including Desert King, King Of Kings and, last year, George Washington.

The National Stakes is hugely significant as a talent-spotter - other top-class recent winners have been Sinndar, Refuse To Bend and Dubawi - and today's renewal is seen as a match between O'Brien's Holy Roman Emperor and Jim Bolger's unbeaten Teofilo

The weekend's other juvenile Group contest, the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury, has been infinitely less influential over the years as a Classic pointer. Sure, some smart animals have won it or been placed - Zafeen, Firebreak and Observatory are recent examples - but it is necessary to go back to 1972 for the last to go on to 2,000 Guineas success, Mon Fils.

Yesterday's edition provided a dramatic spectacle, in that Excellent Art and Doctor Brown were split by the width of their whiskers after going head-to-head through the final furlong, but caused no ripples otherwise. Excellent Art, ably assisted yesterday by Kerrin McEvoy, can still be backed at 40-1 for next spring's Newmarket showpiece and his success paid a solid compliment to Holy Roman Emperor, who beat him pointless at the Curragh in July.

At Ayr, with the bias towards high numbers so set in most minds, all bar three of the 23 runners tracked towards the stands' side of the track. The main bunch was headed throughout by Borderlescott, who admirably fended off all comers as challenges came hard and fast through the closing stages. But Fonthill Road, with Paul Hanagan in the saddle, had stretched away from his two companions through the final furlong and was a length clear of the main pack across the course to his right at the line.

It was fine compensation for the six-year-old's short-head defeat in the valuable six-furlong dash last year.

"I left it to Paul where to go," said winning trainer Richard Fahey, "but when I saw there were only three over there I thought 'God, this is not what we want', but in the end, there was enough pace among the three to keep him in contention." Borderlescott (11-2) fended off Advanced (40-1) by and Coleorton Dancer (25-1) by two heads, with Andronikos a neck fifth and Out After Dark another head away in sixth. The 9-2 favourite Hogmaneigh came in 17th.

BETS OF THE DAY

Best shortshot
The decision to bypass yesterday's Mill Reef Stakes with well-regarded Hinton Admiral (Hamilton 4.10) can pay dividends.

Best longshot
Mujeak (Hamilton, 2.30), an habitual slow starter, is still a maiden but could trouble these if he can get away on terms.

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