Leger is stigma free and wide open

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The Independent Online
Racing

When even flares can find their way back into fashion, it was perhaps inevitable that the St Leger would finally do the same, and with yesterday's 14-strong declaration for the final - and oldest - Classic this weekend, the good times now seem to be returning to Town Moor. Shaamit, the Derby winner, will be elsewhere - Leopardstown to be precise, where he may face Zagreb, the Irish Derby winner, in the Irish Champion Stakes - but with its intriguing mixture of proven ability and potential, the 1996 Leger should be the finest renewal for a decade at least.

"It's been a long time since the race has generated so much positive copy," John Sanderson, Doncaster's clerk of the course, said yesterday. "It's turned out to be a proper Classic. These days it's not at all surprising that the English Derby winner doesn't come for the St Leger unless he happens to be that sort of horse and he's owned by a traditionalist who thinks that way. Given the modern trends, I think it's a very good field, and the way Classic Cliche [last year's winner] has gone on to become a really great four-year-old has done the race no harm at all. It appears at last to have thrown off the stigma that slightly unfairly was attached to being a Leger winner."

A mark of the Leger's attraction for punters is that few would bet with confidence on which of Saturday's runners will set off as favourite. Dushyantor and Mons, first and second in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York last month, are available at 7-2 and 4-1 respectively, and either might fight his way to the head of the market before the stalls open.

Lurking a couple of points behind them, meanwhile, is Sharaf Kabeer, winner of the March Stakes at Goodwood, who will carry the royal blue silks of the Godolphin operation which were successful 12 months ago.

Classic Cliche was gambled down to be the100-30 favourite that day, but a similar punt on Sharaf Kabeer seems unlikely given that the Godolphin team - Pricket, the Oaks runner-up, is their second-string - will travel to Doncaster in hopeful rather than confident mood.

"I think he's got an awful lot to prove," Simon Crisford, their racing manager, said yesterday. "He's very inexperienced, and the face value of his form is not sufficient to win a St Leger at the present time. But having said that he is a progressive type, he stays very well and we've always rated him, and he's done well since Goodwood so he certainly deserves to take his chance."

Saturday's race will be Sharaf Kabeer's second venture into Group One company, following a poor performance in the Irish Derby, but he now has the experience to step back up in class. "He'd won his maiden very easily and he'd always been a decent type at home so we thought we'd take our chance at the Curragh," Crisford said, "but he was a little too babyish for a race like that and he didn't give a true indication of his talent."

Pricket, a distant second to Lady Carla at Epsom, has better Group One form, but in her case, stamina is an imponderable. Diminuendo, her full sister, succumbed to Minster Son in the 1988 Leger when breath failed her in the final furlong, and Pricket is freely available at 20-1 for Saturday's Classic.

"If she does stay, I'm sure she'll run very well because she's in good form and top condition," Crisford said, "but obviously it's a big question if she'll get the trip."

Minster Son was the most recent of Willie Carson's three Leger winners, but he appears to stand little chance of increasing his total in what is expected to be his final season in the saddle. Carson has been booked to ride Desert Boy, a 66-1 outsider, for Peter Chapple-Hyam, who holds a more realistic chance of victory with either Chief Contender or, in particular, Heron Island, who will be the mount of John Reid.

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