Racing: Sponsor on line for St Leger

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DONCASTER racecourse announced yesterday that a new sponsor has been found for the St Leger. The deal was unveiled at a press conference in Jockey Club headquarters, and for once the self-satisfied atmosphere at Portman Square seemed thoroughly justified.

Despite the recession, Doncaster has persuaded TeleConnection (UK), a telecommunications company, to invest pounds 425,000 over three years in the world's oldest Classic. Prize money before owners' contributions will reach pounds 200,000 for the first time this year, and rise to pounds 250,000 by 1996.

Whether the cash injection will by then have restored the Leger's declining prestige is questionable. Some suspect that a top middle-distance three-year-old will now rarely, if ever, run over an extended mile and three-quarters at Doncaster less than a month before the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. If so, the race is either a deserved bonus for late-maturing stayers, or a consolation prize for the Derby also-rans.

If the trend is to be reversed, the race's new entry schedule may also be significant. The initial entry stage, until now in winter when no trainer could hope to select their likely candidate, has been moved forward 16 weeks. The first names will now go into the hat on 22 June (as opposed to 3 March last year), with a lower fee expected to minimise the inevitable drop in numbers. The overall cost of running in the race has been reduced from 1.5 per cent to 1.25 per cent of the added prize money, while the price of a late supplementary entry drops 30 per cent to pounds 17,500.

The most encouraging aspect of the new agreement was not the refreshing irreverence of Godfrey Anderson, TeleConnection's chairman - his secure phone systems would, he pointed out, 'be of interest to many celebrities' - but that it is his first major sponsorship.

Other Classic courses will be wishing that they had got to Anderson first. Apart from the Leger, only the 1,000 Guineas now has a certain sponsor for the 1995 season. Newmarket's other Classic, the 2,000 Guineas, is available for hire immediately, while Ever Ready's support of the Derby and Oaks will end after this year's runnings.

Epsom's efforts to replace them are not assisted by the doubts over the course's ownership, with United Racecourses, which owns Epsom, Sandown and Kempton, up for sale.

The search for a suitably sized bank account is unlikely to be easy. Doncaster's executives would be wise to avoid betting - their supply of good fortune has already run dry.

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