Racing: Saddlers' Hall to steal show

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The Independent Online
IN VIEW of the quantities of seriously expensive sparklers that the sponsors of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, an upmarket jewellers, will be handing out at Ascot next Saturday, they must be a trifle disappointed by the less than 22-carat degree of competition. They might even be tempted to hang on to the good stuff until next year, and pop down to Ratners for some substitutes.

True, St Jovite, the apparently brilliant winner of the Irish Derby will be there, as will Saddlers' Hall, unbeaten in three races this year, but with the possible exception of Silver Wisp it is very hard to give anything else even a sniff of a chance. The simple fact that Sapience is next in the lists is proof enough of that.

The key to this race is whether you believe the form of St Jovite's 12-length defeat of the Derby winner Dr Devious at The Curragh last month, a result which represented a 14-length turnaround of their running at Epsom. If you do, the evens currently available about Jim Bolger's colt must look like a signpost towards early retirement, but there are a couple of points worth considering before you indulge that long-held desire to tell the boss about his personality defects.

The most important is that Dr Devious's performance in Ireland was too poor to be true, almost certainly thanks to the virus which was affecting his trainer's string at the time. Once you remove him from the equation, the Curragh form looks less reliable, and though he allegedly broke the course record by three seconds, most people's stopwatches imply that he was a second slower than that. It was still an excellent time, but anyone who fancies that they hear the sound of hairs splitting should be aware that a galloping racehorse covers six lengths in a second.

It seems safe to assume, however, that St Jovite will at least be partnered by his regular jockey, Christy Roche, such is the effectiveness of Roche's ongoing campaign to delay a 15-day suspension until, apparently, he feels like serving it (mid-December is the current favourite). His recourse to the courtroom does at least provide an encouraging precedent for all punters who have considered sueing the jockey who has just given their sure thing a shamefully inept ride.

Pat Eddery, on the other hand, will not be disputing the suspension which denies him the ride on Saddlers' Hall, but this time next week he may be wishing he had. It seems likely that we have still not seen the best of Michael Stoute's colt, and the jockey who finally slips into his saddle will be a lucky man indeed. He is definitely a value bet to beat St Jovite, while Geoff Wragg's Jeune, unlucky at the Royal meeting last month, can reward each-way support by chasing them home.

Vincent O'Brien's runners may no longer inspire the respect they once did, but El Prado, one of last year's best juveniles, will still merit attention when he makes a belated seasonal debut at Ayr tomorrow. He could yet be involved in the autumn's main events, but for the moment the fitness of Polish Blue (3.15) may give him the edge.