Racing: Bonny the Classic attraction: Paul Hayward on an event striving to regain past glories

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The Independent Online
It is an ancient British institution revered around the world, but people are now saying the money could be better spent elsewhere. Is it an anachronism? Has it lost its mystique? Not the Royal family, the St Leger.

A farce has descended on the world's oldest Classic this week and it will not assist its beleagured defenders in their struggle with the iconoclasts. Only eight horses have been left in the big race at Doncaster this afternoon and two of those - the favourite, User Friendly, and Allegan - are not certain to run. If any more sticks are poked into the turf to test the going we could be in for a repeat of the collapsing-track dramas of 1989.

The position this morning is that Allegan will take part only if there has been overnight rain. A decision on User Friendly will be made only after her trainer, Clive Brittain, has walked the course, though Doncaster say they will activate the sprinklers if the weather stays fine.

Should User Friendly withdraw, the St Leger would be reduced to a pantomime imitation of a Classic, so there is a particularly large gun at the head of Doncaster's groundsmen. Another one could be placed there by the trainers of fast-ground specialists if there is any suspicion of turf-tampering to please the User Friendly team.

Apologies for all the weather- talk, but there is more at stake here than simply finding the winner. Now more than ever, the prestige of the St Leger is on the line, and the picture looks grim when you compare it to the line- up for tomorrow's Irish Champion Stakes. There, the Derby winner (Dr Devious) meets the winner of the Irish Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (St Jovite), as well as Europe's leading older filly, Kooyonga.

Odds-on he may be, but St Jovite (4.30) ought to confirm his position as favourite for next month's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe whatever happens at Doncaster and in three Arc trials at Longchamp tomorrow. With the likelihood that the ground today will be faster than she would like, it is worth ignoring User Friendly and looking for a late developer to end her unbeaten run.

BONNY SCOT (nap 3.40) is the one to do it. Asked yesterday to explain this horse's progress over the summer Luca Cumani, his trainer, said simply: 'Time'. A brief history of Bonny Scot's time shows that he has transformed himself from a sluggish, one-gear disappointment into a Classic contender. 'Don't forget that his sire (Commanche Run, the 1984 St Leger) didn't hit the scene until the Gordon Stakes (which Bonny Scot also won impressively),' Cumani says.

There is little confidence behind either Sonus or Assessor but Rain Rider and Shuailaan both have their supporters. Michael Roberts, his jockey, is among the latter's most forceful advocates, saying: 'It doesn't look a great race and that's why I've been urging Alec (Stewart, Shuailaan's trainer) to run him. He's a classy little horse and it's a shame he got the virus. He was going to be our Derby contender. The only question over him is stamina.'

Stamina, the St Leger has aplenty. What it needs today, and in the difficult years ahead, is to regain its place in the equine class system.

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