Stoute to keep flying high with Air Marshall

A two-pronged assault force can enable the season's leading trainer to at last capture the elusive final Classic

There areE few bouncier treads or more satisfied countenances on the racecourse these days than those owned by Michael Stoute. Stoutey, or Sir Michael, he does not much care what you call him at the moment, is having a year which could be described as a horse he once trained, an
annus mirabilis.

There areE few bouncier treads or more satisfied countenances on the racecourse these days than those owned by Michael Stoute. Stoutey, or Sir Michael, he does not much care what you call him at the moment, is having a year which could be described as a horse he once trained, an annus mirabilis.

Not only is the Freemason Lodge trainer surging away at the top of the trainers' championship, but he is also looking down from his peak on the scrambling figures of his great rivals Henry Cecil and the Godolphin operation.

As they struggle on racing's cliff-face, Michael Ronald Stoute seems impervious to the afflictions that have visited his Newmarket neighbours. All he has to contemplate are 80 winners and over £2.2m in prize-money, which places him around £900,000 ahead of Mark Johnston in the title race.

Things are going so well for Stoute that it may well be that he is about to conquer the St Leger, the only Classic he has yet to collect. Over the last two decades, the world's oldest Classic has been in danger of making him into an old man.

It all started so horribly badly when Shergar, the great Shergar, was a badly beaten fourth in 1981. Since then there have been the runners-up Hellenic and Saddlers' Hall, a third and a further four fourths.

Stoute tries to improve his options for the 224th St Leger this afternoon by saddling two of the 11-strong field (Savoire Vivre was taken out yesterday). The progressive Dalampour would not be a second string in most yards, but here he must defer to the Great Voltigeur winner, Air Marshall.

John Reid's mount reappeared at Haydock in July and was beaten a head by one of today's rivals, Marienbard, but also, more significantly, by his own rustiness. That should be his only blemish of the campaign, but the form book tells us that Air Marshall was defeated in Goodwood's Gordon Stakes by yet another of today's opponents, Millenary. That, however, was not the horse's fault. The blame lies with Johnny Murtagh, who rode one of his few false races of the season.

Air Marshall (next best 3.35) can now right his two defeats this season and may have most to fear from Littlepacepaddocks, who may not be the headline writers' idea of the best result, but who has a chance of being the first winning filly since User Friendly in 1992.

The bet of the day comes in the previous race, a handicap over the straight mile, for which 11 go to post. SURE DANCER (nap 3.00) has not been the soundest of horses, indeed this will be just the sixth race of his life. It appears, though, that he has not been sickened by his inactivity.

The five-year-old was sixth, but not beaten far, on his reappearance at Ascot and then ran into the swiftly improving Albarahin at Sandown. He has won on Town Moor before and can do so again.

The dreadful thought for six of the runners in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown this afternoon is that the seventh is the awesome Giant's Causeway (4.05). It had been thought that the "iron horse" would be allowed some respite before Ascot's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, but he is now popped out yet again in the absence of Montjeu.

Aidan O'Brien's worry, if he really has one, is not that Giant's Causeway is overraced as he steps out for yet another Group One contest, but that he might be short of work, having been given a period of rest and relaxation last week.

Yet the beauty of Giant's Causeway is that he takes only the minimum out of himself at the racecourse. He wins, but he wins by the shortest distance possible, and not even O'Brien himself knows how much the chestnut is holding in reserve.

It is not something we are likely to uncover this afternoon, as the arrangements look perfect for the favourite. He will have two outriders in the shape of Apollo Victoria and Manhattan to ensure a true-run race, and his four real challengers look a grade below. Best Of The Bests, an optimistically named beast, is perhaps the best suggestion as runner-up. In one sense, he will probably get close to Giant's Causeway today. In another, he is lucky to share the same paragraph.

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