Racing: St Jovite's triumph for Irish

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WHEN in doubt, don't mess about. St Jovite became the first Irish winner of the 'King George' since 1977 with standby jockey Stephen Craine adopting the ancient Irish instruction of 'jump off in front and keep improving your position.'

That's a grave understatement of a performance by both horse and jockey which was quite awesome in its ruthlessness. Six long lengths St Jovite won from Saddlers' Hall and Opera House but from early in the straight the only race was for second place.

Opera House was third, Sapience fourth, Rock Hopper fifth, and as this first bunch of pursuers all finished close together within a pound or two of what you might expect, there can be no doubting the minting of St Jovite's brilliance. The horse may only now be fulfilling trainer Jim Bolger's predictions but the official handicapper Anthony Arkwright was thinking of a 135 rating last night, the same mark he gave Generous after last year's breathtaking King George win.

St Jovite is not exactly beautiful in either looks or movement but from the moment he strode on to the manicured lawns of the Ascot paddock, his gleaming, hard-muscled condition screamed at you that this was a horse ready to run.

He is a tall, slightly rugged looking bay. He has a rather straight, unimpressive neck for an animal of such length and there is not much spare flesh about his loins and quarters. So what? There is not much spare flesh about Aouita.

Of course big winners carry their history with them and looking at St Jovite yesterday with his devastating Irish Derby win in mind was a different process than the slightly disbelieving eye some of us cast over him before he ran second at Epsom. What strikes you now is the range of his stride, the straightforwardness of his set of head.

This all-aged championship is always the most fascinating of equine beauty parades. Saddlers' Hall looked hard and marvellously fit, the chestnut Sapience looked powerfully strong, the three-year-old Silver Wisp carried so much heavy muscle you would have thought he was entered against Linford Christie and company in Barcelona. Jeune, the other three-year-old, looked uncomfortably lean and sweaty as if this exam was a bit much for him.

Jockey Stephen Craine was only booked for the place in St Jovite's saddle on Friday when final hopes were abandoned of finding yet another legal wheeze of saving regular rider Christy Roche from the 15-day suspension which has been hanging over him. Isle of Man born Craine was champion apprentice in Ireland and although he has had some big successes over there and rode one small winner at Ascot some time back, this race was way out of his normal category.

Suffice to say that he took his chance like a man who had already ridden 140 not 14 winners this season and reminded us all of the beautiful, brutal, often forgotten truth that it is the horse who does the running.

It is not a truth that is lost on either St Jovite's trainer Jim Bolger nor his owner Virginia Kraft Payson, who bred the big bay at her stud in Kentucky and herself acted as his groom when St Jovite flew over to join her nine other Bolger-trained horses in Ireland at the beginning of last season. A former sports journalist, Mrs Kraft Payson was not unfamiliar with Ascot either. Back in 1981 she and her late husband were guests of Her Majesty for Royal Ascot and came up this famous finishing straight as part of the carriage procession.

With St Jovite, 51-year-old Bolger has confirmed that the operation he has built up in the hills of County Carlow is now a match for any stable in the world. He had said before Epsom that his horse had a lot of improvement in him and now he has been proved wonderfully right.

Before the race he had taken Craine to one side and given him some richly reassuring instructions. 'You know what to do,' said Jim. 'Anyone can ride a good horse, not everyone can ride a bad horse. This is a good horse.'

So it proved, but credit Craine with his cool. For the first 300 yards he steadied St Jovite in front whilst Silver Wisp and Sapience jostled around him. When it looked as if Sapience might challenge seriously for the lead Stephen let his partner stride along a bit more in front and it's a tribute to his control and his horse's power that whilst you never saw him visibly increasing the pressure, he had Saddlers' Hall and several of the others already pushing before the final turn.

Some jockeys might have thought that tempo strong enough to leave alone. But Craine had cards to play and he played them. With one hard crack from his whip he set the thoroughbred beneath him alight. St Jovite's big stride climbed out in front of him and the famous Ascot turf can rarely have been bitten so relentlessly all the way to the line.

It was a ruthless, brilliant performance which established St Jovite as the best of his generation. It was as it should be.

(Photograph omitted)