At a dinner party in in the 1770s at Lord Rockingham's pad it was decided a name should be given to the race several of the guests had been contesting. They decided to call it after one of their number, Colonel Anthony St Leger (pronounced Sellinger). These days the world's oldest Classic could be retitled the Sheikh Mohammed (which is pronounced sir if you listen to his many acolytes).
Dubai's crown prince won the race 12 months ago with Moonax and weight of numbers suggests the globe's most powerful owner will have a celebration of some sort to attend this evening. Of the 10 runners, he has an interest in seven, including the first five in the betting. The Maktoums' domination of the Classics (they have won the last eight) looks certain to continue.
According to the bookmakers, the most likely victor, following yesterday's withdrawal of Presenting, is Affidavit. The colt has factors in his favour other than the colour his livery, the Sheikh's maroon and white: he is to be ridden by Walter Swinburn, who has the reputation of being a big- race specialist, and his trainer is Andre Fabre, who is a specialist in every area. What he does not possess, however, is particularly persuasive form.
Affidavit has already finished behind one of his rivals, Classic Cliche, this season and has been running over 1m7f in recent outings. Those in the camp of another runner, Luso, may not be the only ones to believe the favourite will be vulnerable to anything which can summon a turn of foot.
Clive Brittain's colt has already won at the highest level, albeit in the beggars' Classic that is the Italian Derby, and as such looks one of only two animals qualified for this encounter. The other is Classic Cliche, the Dante Stakes winner who has been in against the big boys all season. On the prevailing good-to-soft ground slight preference is for LUSO (nap 3.40).
Ireland's leading race, and in terms of quality the leading race of the afternoon, the Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, has also been affected by a late defector. Peter Chapple-Hyam's Spectrum has been withdrawn because the ground is too firm for him, but his absence will not have as devastating effect as Presenting's in Britain as there are other potent performers in the field.
Six of the last seven Champion Stakes have found their way back over the Irish Sea and there is a good chance that the pattern will be extended as Geoff Wragg's Pentire goes for his sixth success of the season. The sequence of British domination is punctured by Suave Dancer's 1991 success, and his trainer, John Hammond, is again represented, by the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runner-up, Hernando. Ireland has not won the race since 1986 and the best prospect of keeping their knuckles round the trophy lies with Definite Article, who will be equipped with blinkers.
Hernando's conqueror last autumn, Carnegie, is in action tomorrow at Longchamp, when horses will be in almost as short supply as racegoers. Fabre's horse contests a four-runner Prix Foy which is in essence a match with Balanchine. The 1994 Oaks and Irish Derby winner again tries to prove that illness last year has not snuffed out her racing career. The memory of her stuttering display at Royal Ascot will not encourage the big punters to go in.
The Prix Niel is also poorly populated, though again there is at least quality among the four runners. Chapple-Hyam's Song Of Tara is the British interest here, but this is his most searching task against the likes of the Irish Derby winner, Winged Love, and Poliglote, who was runner-up to a horse called Celtic Swing in the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby).
Formidable home warriors will also be at the ramparts for the Prix Vermeille, for which four British fillies - Caramba, Larrocha, Musetta and Fanjica - make the journey. Theirs is no easy encounter against the old adversaries Matiara and Carling, and the highly regarded Muncie.Reuse content