Grimes can pay by stealing the Portland

ST LEGER MEETING: The attraction of Yorkshire in September is so great that one jockey is prepared to lose his job to be there
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The Independent Online
Given the choice between a weekend in Turkey and a day in Doncaster, most people would opt for the former without hesitation, but yesterday it became clear that Jason Weaver may have lost his retainer to ride for Mark Johnston as a result of deciding otherwise. Which can mean only one thing - it is St Leger week at Donny, and for four days at least, South Yorkshire is suddenly the place to be.

Weaver has enjoyed great success for Johnston, including victory on Mister Baileys in the 1994 2,000 Guineas, but when asked to travel to Turkey to partner Fly To The Stars in a pounds 50,000 event this Saturday, he refused, and though he will continue to ride for Johnston, it will now be in a freelance capacity. "He wouldn't go and ride where I wanted him to and that's what I pay him a retainer for, so it is over," Johnston said. Weaver, riding at Leicester yesterday, preferred not to comment.

With almost three-quarters of a million pounds in prize-money already banked this season, Johnston is by some way the most successful trainer in the North of England, and started yesterday in sixth place in the overall trainers' championship. Much of his money is earned a long way from his Middleham home, but for the rest of this week at least, the big southern yards will be the visitors rather than the hosts, and it will be a considerable surprise if he does not add another purse or two to the pot, with or without the services of Weaver.

In terms of prize-money, the Group Three Park Hill Stakes, the "fillies' Leger", is the most tempting event on the first day of the St Leger meeting, but the one which many might prefer to win is the Portland Handicap, one of the best sprint handicaps of the year and a challenge to the cunning and ability of every handler with a runner. Punters, certainly, would give almost anything to find the winner, but you could easily back half the field each-way and still be left holding a worthless betting slip.

Nor is there much to be gained by attempting to predict the effect of the draw, since while some trainers felt yesterday that a low number would be an advantage, there are so many speedy horses spread throughout the field that unless there is significant rain overnight (unlikely, according to the forecast), stall positions may play little part in the result.

More important, though, could be the effect of what seems sure to be a breathless pace from the moment the stalls open, and the ideal candidate this afternoon could be a sprinter who prefers to be held up before finding a burst of speed in the closing stages.

Two runners in particular seem to fit the bill, My Best Valentine and Patsy Grimes, and Stan Moore's runner in particular appears very generously handicapped following two excellent runs in recent weeks. Autumn is when fillies and mares tend to reach their peak, and with a useful claiming apprentice taking off another 3lb, PATSY GRIMES (nap 3.40) seems sure to go close today.

It could be a similar story in the Scarbrough Stakes, in which Bolshoi (next best 2.35), one of the most consistent horses around, will be a value bet to hit the front in the final strides when the pace-setters start to fade, but the third sprint on the televised card, the fillies' nursery, is best left alone.

The Park Hill Stakes should fall to Crown Of Light (3.10), who runs here rather than in the St Leger, and a good run in the same event by Book At Bedtime will actually be rewarded, if that is the right word, with an outing in the final Classic on Saturday.

Twelve months ago, the first Classic winner to appear at the meeting was, as it turned out, Benny The Dip, who took the conditions event for juveniles which opens the card. It would be extraordinary if next year's Derby winner turned out to be in today's field, though all are promising sorts and Teapot Row (1.30) may be the best of them.

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