Racing: Iscan aiming to secure his Classic berth

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The Independent Online
IF ANY more bad fortune befalls the world's oldest Classic, people will start talking about the Curse of the St Leger. Yesterday should have brought a rare uplift in the mood at Doncaster, when 14 stood their ground for Saturday's race, hinting that more than a dozen runners may go to post for the first time in almost 20 years. Better still, Ramruma, twice a Classic winner, is among them.

As luck would have it, though - and the Leger's luck rarely seems to have it any other way - the most eagerly anticipated race of the day will not be run on Town Moor, or even in Britain. Two performances stand out in the 1999 form book, both of them wide-margin victories in Group One events, by Royal Anthem in the International Stakes at York and Daylami in the King George. Those two horses now seem sure to meet in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, an hour or so before they go to post for Doncaster's Classic. How many punters will stop discussing the Irish race long enough to even think about the Leger remains to be seen.

Nor are Daylami and Royal Anthem the only A-list celebrities expected to turn up on Saturday. Dream Well, last year's French and Irish Derby winner, is also an intended runner, while Montjeu, who won the same two races this season and is favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, is another entry. He has an alternative engagement in one of the Arc trials at Longchamp the following day, but a run in Ireland has certainly not been ruled out.

As for the Leger, there really will be talk of a curse if the race contrives to lose one of its second-favourites today as a result of events in the distinctly un-Classical surroundings of Leicester. That is where Iscan, who finished second to Yavana's Pace in the March Stakes 10 days ago, will be required to pass a stalls test, as a result of causing trouble at the start twice in the last year.

It is only because the Jockey Club has used its discretion to bend the rules that Iscan still stands any chance of running on Saturday. Normally, a horse reported twice by the starter for bad behaviour must wait 14 days from its last run before undergoing a stalls test, which would have been Leger day itself. Sir Michael Stoute, Iscan's trainer, had applied for a special dispensation for his colt, and learned only yesterday that it had been granted.

Clearly, anyone thinking of backing Iscan before his examination should do so "with a run", but if he passes, it could be seen as a good omen for Stoute as he attempts to win the only British Classic to have eluded him. Even Shergar, who started at 4-9 in 1981, could not break the trainer's Leger hoodoo, while he has also sent out two runners-up in the 1990s.

Today is also decision day for Barry Hills's Elmutabaki, who has suffered a foot problem since finishing fifth in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. "Mr Hills is pleased with the progress of the foot," Angus Gold, Sheikh Hamdan's racing manger, said yesterday. "And Elmutabaki will do some work on Tuesday."

One man who is unlikely to have runners until well into the next millennium is Patrick Biancone, who is most fondly remembered in Britain as the trainer of Triptych, a multiple Group One winner in the 1980s. Biancone, who has been training in Hong Kong for several years, was yesterday suspended by the Hong Kong Jockey Club for the entire 1999-2000 season, which started on Sunday and ends next June, after two horses from his stable were found to have been drugged. Whytellyou, who won the L'Or de Martell Cup at Happy Valley on 10 April, tested positive for mephenesin, a prohibited muscle relaxant, while Rickfield tested positive for the steroid boldenone a month later.

Biancone was also fined HK$250,000 in 1996 after 23 horses in his yard gave tests with traces of sputolosin, an anti-congestant strictly regulated by the HKJC. The Club has been particularly active in defence of racing's image in recent months, following the convictions of two jockeys for fixing races and arrests in connection with race-fixing allegations.

n Eddie Ahern, who won Sunday's Moyglare Stud Stakes on Preseli, was yesterday banned for 21 days by the Galway stewards for hitting another jockey with his whip during a race. The stewards interviewed Ahern and the apprentice Danny Grant following an incident where it appeared Ahern leant over and struck at Grant with his whip.