Racing: Sea waves bye-bye to Leger

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The Independent Online
By Ian Davies

THE ST Leger, the oldest of the five Classics, received a massive blow to its credibility as a contemporary championship contest when the Godolphin operation announced last night that two of their entrants, the odds-on favourite Sea Wave, and Central Park will bypass the Doncaster race to instead contest the Prix Niel, a trial for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe over a mile and a half at Longchamp on Sunday.

Over the now unfashionably lengthy distance of one mile six furlong and 132 yards and coming less than a month before the infinitely more prestigious Arc, the St Leger has had a tough time of it in recent years.

Reference Point, in 1987, was the last Derby winner to run in the Leger. He won the race easily enough, but subsequently flopped in the Arc, lending weight to the theory that the Leger is a graveyard for those who use it as an Arc trial, a doctrine which has gained in strength ever since the great Nijinsky went under to Sassafras in the 1970 Arc following his trip to Town Moor to complete the Triple Crown.

Even so, last night's news represents a new low point for the St Leger and fresh ammunition for those who want to shorten the distance of the race, open it up to older horses - as is the case with the Irish St Leger and the Prix Royal-Oak (the French St Leger) - or abolish it altogether.

Coral, Stanley and the Tote suspended betting on the Leger after yesterday's withdrawals, but William Hill and Ladbrokes issued new prices and make Nedawi, Godolphin's remaining entry, their 2-1 favourite.

Ta-Lim, winner of the March Stakes at Goodwood recently, is a definite runner. Richard Hills, who takes the ride at Doncaster, partnered Sir Michael Stoute's charge in work at Newmarket on Saturday and the colt satisfied connections.

Angus Gold, racing manager to Ta-Lim's owner, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, said: "He didn't do much because it had only been a week since he won at Goodwood but what he did was fine. At the moment he is on course for the Leger. It's a big step up but he is an improving horse and nobody knows how good he is. The ground won't bother him. I understand rain is forecast and if the going was on the easy side, I don't think he'd mind that."

Ardleigh Charmer, the outsider, also runs. Chris Dwyer, his trainer, said: "He's ready to run and Gary Hind will be offered the ride. The owners bred him and have paid for him to get this far so they decided to have a go and have a day out."

The filly Star Begonia from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard is a probable runner but Peter Chapple-Hyam's Dark Moondancer has not yet been given the go-ahead for Doncaster. Chapple-Hyam said: "We'll see how he goes in the morning before we decide. If they get some rain it would help - he loves the cut and the 14 furlongs would suit him down to the ground. If he does run, I'm stuck for a jockey because John Reid is going to Ireland to ride Swain."

When the layers revise their prices in a hurry, punters can take advantage. Although he is not a definite starter, Ladbrokes' offer of 20-1 Dark Moondancer is unlikely to last long, neither is their 10-1 Star Begonia or 9-1 High And Low, while William Hill are likely to have plenty of takers for their offers of 7-2 The Glow-Worm and 9-1 Sunshine Street.