Racing: Friendly proves a class act: St Leger / Champion filly proves her credentials for assault on the Arc by putting colts in their place in the final Classic of the season

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SHE WAS better than the others. After all the worries about too firm a surface User Friendly won this St Leger so decisively that the result would have been the same if they had raced around the roadworks on the A1.

But the quarter of a million gallons which were poured on the Doncaster turf overnight may have done more than ensure the 7-4 favourite's participation in this 216th running of the oldest Classic of all. User Friendly walked back free and springy to the unsaddling enclosure. All being well she is now set to take her unbeaten record to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in three weeks' time.

The 'will she run, won't she run' headlines had dominated the week and once George Duffield turned her away from the parade and swept back past the 22,000 crowd you could see what trainer Clive Brittain and owner Bill Gredley had been worrying about.

For although User Friendly is not a big, heavy-footed thing, she is no silky floating thoroughbred either. She canters past with her forelegs only scratching out as far ahead as needed. How she would enjoy a pitched battle on the firmish Doncaster turf had to be the question. Especially as she had been made to dig deep on just such a surface on both her two previous races.

The worries were short-lived, but you could say that they lingered for the first couple of minutes of the three minutes 5.48 seconds it took to run this St Leger. George Duffield parked her in third place as Lester Piggott on Mack The Knife led Steve Cauthen on Sonus for a first mile-and-a-quarter that was run a full five seconds slower than the race which set a new track record over the 14-furlong St Leger trip on Thursday.

Yorkshire-born George Duffield is enjoying the best season of his 30 years in the saddle and at 46 he does not bother with too many concessions to style or streamlining. Now there was an element of brake parachute as he poised upright in the irons with his filly galloping eagerly beneath him.

At this stage the eye scans up and down the runners to try and read from the rhythm of the strides and the angles of the riders just whose hopes are going to be realised, whose dreams turn to dust.

Piggott, of course, always steals the spotlight. Eight times already he has won the St Leger. As he tilted forward behind Mack The Knife's ears with four full furlongs of the Doncaster straight ahead of him you could briefly imagine a ninth.

Steve Cauthen had taken three St Legers from just five rides in the Classic. Sonus had been the handsomest of all the runners beforehand. As Cauthen put him at Mack The Knife he had all bar the filly beaten behind him.

Rain Rider was the disappointment. With Allegan a late withdrawal he looked the most certain stayer in the race but Willie Carson was bullying him before the bend and seventh and last was to be his final marking.

Assessor was also a struggler when the heat was turned up for a brutally rapid 48-second final half- mile. And although Shuailaan did eventually get on to the back of the argument he had looked unhappy and sweating beforehand and now took much longer than expected to answer Michael Roberts's wriggling, cracking demands from the saddle.

The struggler who survived was Bonny Scot. He had been backed down to second favourite, had a smooth inside run into the straight, but his supporters were dismayed to see Frankie Dettori the first of the contenders to go for his whip. It says much for Bonny Scot's courage that he still got deep into the battle for second place.

For that was all that was on offer. George Duffield got User Friendly positioned out wide of Mack The Knife and Sonus three furlongs out. He put her hard alongside Sonus and then with 300 yards to go he asked the real question.

User Friendly answered instantly. A length clear of the others she lugged in towards the rails, Duffield looked round to where Sonus would finally hold off Bonny Scot by half-a-length and put his own head down to kick towards the oldest winning post in Classic history.

Three-and-a-half lengths she won by and afterwards the unsaddling enclosure was awash with emotions. Trainer Clive Brittain was misty-eyed with the thought of his stable-lad days with St Leger winners St Paddy and Aurelius in the Sixties. Owner Bill Gredley had a cup that was overfull.

Three years ago he had been part of the midwife squad when User Friendly had been foaled at his Stetchworth Stud near Newmarket. She had become the pride of his family. But now not all his family were here.

In the Epsom unsaddling enclosure after the Oaks he was joined by his wife and two young children. Now only the kids were here. Sarah Gredley was claimed by cancer in mid-summer. At Doncaster yesterday there was plenty of sadness in the winning smile.

ST LEGER RESULT 1 User Friendly G Duffield 7-4 fav 2 Sonus S Cauthen 15-2 3 Bonny Scot L Dettori 5-2 7 ran. 3 1/2 , nk, 3/4 , 6, 5. C Brittain, Newmarket, for W Gredley. Tote: pounds 2.60; pounds 1.80, pounds 3.10. DF: pounds 8.40. CSF: pounds 13.63. NR: Allegan.

(Photograph omitted)