Racing: Lewis' faith in St Jovite vintage: A voice of experience supports the youngsters as they take on the older generation at Ascot

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The Independent Online
WHAT hopes for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes? A bit like the wine trade in a year of Phylloxera, racing's Classic generation of colts is short on vintage and long on inquests. Dr Devious and Rodrigo De Triano are sidelined, Arazi is flat, France's Prix du Jockey Club winner is hard to recall. For the antidote, you need a Geoff Lewis.

Lewis's Silver Wisp and the Irish Derby winner, St Jovite, will carry more than the expectations of their owners and trainers when they appear at Ascot on Saturday, 24 hours before the first British race meeting on a Sunday, or Sinday as it will be to its opponents. The two horses will carry the credibility of their age as they seek to overcome older runners like Saddlers' Hall, Opera House and Sapience.

With the possible exception of St Jovite, the class of 89 (birth- wise) have little to flaunt to an outside world which is predominantly indifferent to the sport unless a world-beater emerges, and which is suspicious of our claims to have found one after being duped by Generous and Arazi. Lewis, though, has taken on the role of publicity officer for Silver Wisp and his contemporaries.

'I think a three-year-old will win the King George, I really do,' Lewis said yesterday. 'People were talking about the Derby (at Epsom) as an ordinary contest, but I think they've denigrated the three-year-olds too quickly. We had a bad spring. Everybody had the cough and the virus, and I think the Derby came a bit quick for the horses to prove how good they are.

'If you look at them, Pollen Count and Great Palm went out to France and did well and Twist And Turn ran a good race in the Eclipse (Stakes), so I think our Derby will be remembered as a good one. They said it was an open, ordinary race in 1971 and it was won by one of the best horses there's ever been.' Lewis produced that example, of course, because the horse was Mill Reef and he rode it.

The position of St Jovite as evens favourite with William Hill and Ladbrokes ('there's been little money for him recently' Mike Dillon, of the latter firm, said yesterday) is a product of his numbingly easy win at The Curragh in a time so far in advance of the record that it attracted widespread scepticism. Nevertheless that form is the pivot of Saturday's race.

'The time was certainly good,' Lewis said, 'but I'd still say the Irish Derby form looks better than it really is. Dr Devious (beaten 12 lengths by St Jovite) can't have been anywhere near his best because he looked a very good horse at Epsom. Apart from him maybe carrying a virus, I'd think the acclimatisation thing was a factor with him.

'Nobody's really thought about that. The poor sod went out to America for the Kentucky Derby, and then they managed to freshen him up for Epsom, but by the time he got to Ireland I'd think he was beginning to feel the pinch. Often horses who've run in the Derby don't do too well at Royal Ascot, and what probably happened with Dr Devious at The Curragh was that he was feeling the heat.'

If there are two each-way bets at this stage they have to be Silver Wisp at 7-1 and Jeune at 16-1, both with Ladbrokes. Saddlers' Hall, the foremost four-year-old, may still be some value at 11-4, given that he only ever produces the minimum effort needed to win and so could produce radical improvement in a fight with St Jovite and company.

'I disagree with some of the papers who said Saddlers' Hall was impressive in the Princess of Wales's Stakes (at the Newmarket July meeting),' Lewis said. 'I don't think he was. Then again, Stoutey (Michael Stoute, the trainer) said he'd been held up in his work for a week before that race, and he's an idle sort who'll be suited by Ascot. But I still think a three-year-old will win it.'

For those who think Silver Wisp is assured of a place, at least, Lewis says: 'He's very fresh and very well. He's definitely as good as he was before the Derby and with the physical improvement he's made he's probably even a bit better.' He will, of course, need to be.

If the King George fails to make your mind race try considering the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on Wednesday week, for which Hills opened a book at the weekend. The line up, with prices, is: 5-2 Marling, 4-1 Second Set, 9-2 Selkirk, 8-1 Sheikh Albadou, 10-1 Exit To Nowhere, Sikeston and Muhtarram, 14-1 Rudimentary, 20-1 Gussy Marlowe, Mystiko and Thourios.

Again, the three-year-old colts are overshadowed, but that will not prevent Goodwood's mile course being a quality street.

(Photograph omitted)