Many ephemeral qualities are needed to win a St Leger, of which the most frequently touted are stamina and fortitude. But the one that shone brightest here yesterday as the oldest, longest and toughest Classic returned to its spiritualhome was perhaps the mostintangible of the lot.
Lucarno, fourth in the Derby, proved himself a cut above the other nine in the 231st running of the venerable mile-and-three-quarter test, and a most elegant job he made of it.
There was real beauty in the sight of this superior colt with the quicksilver action galloping all over his rivals halfway down the straight, Jimmy Fortune perched on his withers just waiting for his moment. It came just before the furlong marker, as the pair ranged alongside trailblazing Mahler; the rider said go now, the horse instantly changed gear and was a length in front at the line.
The winning trainer, John Gosden, knew exactly what the huge sun-drenched crowd had just seen. "That," he said, "was just sheer class. We had some real doubts beforehand about him seeing out the distance and the last two furlongs were unknown territory, but he had the class to handle it. It's certainlynot his optimum trip and I shouldn't think he'll run over it again, but class saw him through."
Mahler kept going, and had enough in reserve to repel his Ballydoyle stablemate, the favourite Honolulu, by three-quarters of a length. But Lucarno was the only one in the field thought good enough to have previously contested a Group One race, and it showed.
The son of Dynaformer was Gosden's second St Leger winner – his first runner, Shantou, won in 1993 – and a first Classic for the 35-year-old Fortune. "They went a proper gallop," the jockeysaid, "I was happy to sit off them, and then pick them off one by one in the straight. And the way he was quickening I didn't think anything would get to me."
Lucarno carries the colours of his breeder, Pennsylvania-based George Strawbridge, 69, whose CV includes being the Campbell's Soup heir, holding a PhD in Latin American History and Political Science, and winning one of America's top races for amateur riders, the Iroquois Steeplechase, four times.
"I'm so proud of this horse," he said. "He was plain as a yearling, but that's the way I like them, workmanlike and manageable. People do say that the St Leger kills a horse as a future stallion, but I breed them to race. That's the fun." Lucarno is set to give his owner a lot more of that next year. "He's still developing, and that's it for now," said Gosden. "But he'll be a proper four-year-old for all the top middle-distance races."
Though out of luck here yester-day, Aidan O'Brien finally made good a rare top-level gap on his record by taking the Irish St Leger at the Curragh, courtesy of the champion stayer Yeats. The 2-7 favourite, though, had to knuckledown properly under Kieren Fallon to better his stablemate Scorpion by half a length.
Global warming has probably done for the old adage that winter comes in on the tail of the last horse in the St Leger, but the seasonal thread through a dry, golden autumn continues this afternoon at Longchamp, scene of the three time-honoured Arc trials. In the Prix Foy for older horses, Manduro will try a mile and a half for the first time, with the filly Mandesha his sternest rival. In the Prix Niel for three-year-olds, the O'Brien-trained Irish Derby winner Soldier Of Fortune takes on local cracks Zambezi Sun and Sageburg, and in the Prix Vermeille for distaffers, Henry Cecil's Passage Of Time makes her eagerly awaited return to action.
Though the two-year-old McCartney in Sheikh Mohammed's colours laid out his credentials for next year with a spirited two- and-a-half-length victory under Ryan Moore in the Champagne Stakes here yesterday, events at the Curragh today – or one event in particular – will be watched with even more acuity. The first three in the betting for the 2,000 Guineas – New Approach, Rio De la Plata, and Myboycharlie – clash in the National Stakes.
The seven-furlong contest may prove to be a head-to-head between the Maktoum and Coolmore juggernauts. Sheikh Mohammed has two shots at the Group One glory; he recently acquired a half-stake in the unbeaten Jim Bolger-trained New Approach, and has not fought shy of letting the Godolphin star Rio De La Plata take him on.
The Coolmore associates have five, though the perceived first string, Myboycharlie, is not from Ballydoyle. He, too, was a recent headhunt and has remained with Tommy Stack, but Aidan O'Brien still fields four of the nine runners.