Racing: Missing Gait opens way for lightweights in Ebor

Greg Wood focuses on the changing shape of next week's big York handicap

The Ebor Handicap, to be run at York's festival meeting a week tomorrow, has not yet seized the imagination of ante-post punters, but a combination of factors may thrust it into prominence today. The news that Bold Gait, the top weight, is to miss the race means that both Embracing and Foundry Lane, two of the market leaders, will run from their true handicap marks. Many backers, meanwhile, when faced with this afternoon's cards at Bath and Southwell, may find the Ebor a much more enticing proposition.

Bold Gait proved in the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle last month that he could carry top weight to success in a major handicap and, despite his 9st 10lb burden for York, he had been well supported for the Ebor. However, James Fanshawe, his trainer, said yesterday: "I'd like to give him a bit longer since his last race in the Goodwood Cup, and he'll go for the Doncaster Cup instead. In any case, it's only a mile and six at York and I think he's better at two miles plus, so the two miles and two at Doncaster should suit him."

Goodwood was also the venue for the most recent outing of Embracing, the Ebor favourite, though it was as long ago as 30 June when Michael Stoute's filly beat a small field in an uninspiring 0-90 handicap. It was her fourth success from five outings this year, though, and it would be no surprise to see the 7-1 offered by Ladbrokes shrink even further now that she will come within the compass of the handicap proper. The remainder of the firm's list reads: 10-1 Diaghilef, Wishing and Foundry Lane, 12-1 Son Of Sharp Shot, Burning, 14-1 Lombardic, Sanmartino, 16- 1 others.

Fanshawe is one of many trainers whose team for next week's meeting will depend on the ground. Henry Cecil is another who may not wish to risk valuable horses on unsuitably firm terrain, and if the going remains fast, may saddle just two serious contenders, Eltish in the International Stakes and Double Dagger in the Ebor. Similar worries may also force him to withdraw Kalabo, a candidate for the St Leger, from the weekend's main event, the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.

A dozen names were left in the Geoffrey Freer yesterday, but Burooj, trained by David Morley, is one of very few certain runners. Moonax and Richard Of York seem sure to miss the race if the ground does not ease, while both Presenting and Don Corleone, who have the St Leger as their principal aim, may take an alternative route to the Classic.

The St Leger now seems likely to suffer the indignity of finding itself sponsorless this year, following the withdrawal of the financially-challenged communications company, Teleconnection. The firm, it seems, has yet to pay up for last year's race, supposedly the first stage of a three-year association with Doncaster, and since it has moved out of its offices without leaving a forwarding address, you can only hope that the clerk of the course is not holding his breath.

"Whatever happens, the St Leger will go ahead as it always has done," Simon Carr, the course's marketing director, said yesterday. "It is still a Classic, the prize-money is still the same and this year's event has the potential to be the most exciting for years. It survived without sponsorship until the 1980s and what I don't want to do is throw it open on a cheap, one-year deal. Ideally, we are looking for a three-year deal, and with all this publicity, anyone coming in now will have an instant high profile."

With that sort of talent for accentuating the positive, Carr's career in marketing will surely be glittering. Others may feel, though, that the St Leger has become unfortunately accident-prone. Perhaps Carr's first call this morning should be to the sponsorship co-ordinator at Direct Line.

n John Reid's mount, Scribe, finished down the field in South America's richest ever race, the pounds 751,880 Grande Premio Brasil, at Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. The Group One contest went to the Argentinian-trained El Sembrador, who edged out Talloires by a nose in front of a crowd of some 80,000.

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