Chris McGrath: Godolphin face acid test in Leger

Inside Track
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The Independent Online

Kieren Fallon is not the only one back from the wilderness. For the people at Godolphin, today must feel just like old times. Either side of the Irish Sea, they square up against their old adversaries at Ballydoyle in a series of big races – and, not before time, their runners are being appraised with deference rather than ridicule.

As with Fallon, a renewal of lasting substance cannot be guaranteed merely by a fresh start. After another excruciating spring, the Godolphin horses have been in fine fettle all summer. But it is one thing to harvest maidens or handicaps, with some of the world's most expensive thoroughbreds; quite another, to show that the stable has finally retrieved the paths of glory.

To their credit, nobody knows that better than its managers. In the Ladbrokes St Leger at Doncaster today, Kite Wood and Mastery seek Godolphin's first Classic since Rule Of Law won the same race in 2004. Should either happen to win, or Schiaparelli beat Yeats at the Curragh 20 minutes later, Godolphin would be celebrating only their second Group One prize in Europe since 2007.

They make the easiest of targets, naturally, but that does not make every criticism a cheap shot. Sheikh Mohammed, who has shown conspicuous fidelity to his team, has acknowledged their difficulties with a very literal regeneration. His boycott of Coolmore stallions notoriously exacerbated the stagnation of his own breeding empire, but he has made spectacular investment in young stallions over the past couple of years.

Meanwhile he has sought to plug the gaps with the likes of Delegator, so impressive on his debut for the stable at Goodwood last month. And then there is his new relationship with André Fabre, who trained Cavalryman to win the Grand Prix de Paris in the sheikh's maroon-and-white silks. Tomorrow the colt returns to Longchamp, for his Arc trial, in Godolphin blue.

Moreover, the complexion of the Leger may itself encourage the sheikh to perceive fissures in the granite supremacy of Coolmore. John Magnier and his partners have never shared the sheikh's immunity to the bottom line.

The Leger field represents a succinct summary of the balance of power. In principle, this race plays emphatically to Ballydoyle's strengths, with the best staying bloodlines now converging through Coolmore. Kite Wood is himself a son of Galileo, and reputedly cost the sheikh a quite enormous sum when already in training with Michael Jarvis. But just look at what has happened to the Ballydoyle Leger types, since trying their luck in the Derby.

After Epsom, you might legitimately have backed Masterofthehorse, Golden Sword, Age Of Aquarius and Black Bear Island – respectively third, fifth, seventh and 10th behind Sea The Stars in the Derby – for the Leger. But three have since been sold abroad. And, as ill luck should have it, the one colt who did remain with Aidan O'Brien, Age Of Aquarius, was favourite when meeting an 11th-hour setback.

It would be quite something, then, for O'Brien to win the race with Changingoftheguard. He did not break his maiden until six days after the Derby, but has flourished over longer trips since and produced a breakthrough performance at the weights in the Ebor. He was desperately unlucky in running, too, and his rivals are pretty mediocre by Classic standards.

Kite Wood, after all, is only a Group Three winner and connections candidly dread the fast ground. And while the sprinter Oasis Dream is proving a freakish stallion, he cannot be rationally expected to turn Monitor Closely into a Leger winner.

Testing conditions back in Ireland will suit Schiaparelli better than Yeats, beaten at odds-on in this race in the past and most effective on summer ground. But few punters would conscionably soil a betting slip by opposing the champion.

With the future in mind, however, the most intriguing showdown between the superpowers is the DFS Champagne Stakes back at Doncaster. In the words of the Godolphin manager, Simon Crisford: "The only problem with Poet's Voice is that he wants to be his grandfather [Dubai Millennium] – he wants to run like the wind."

He did not quite see out this trip last time, certainly, but had banged his head on the gate. Conversely, two of three Giant's Causeway colts representing Ballydoyle have already won over a mile in soft ground. Significantly the stable jockey favours Viscount Nelson, who has seemed short of flair but could prove a different proposition in these conditions.

Alfred Nobel already has runs on the board for the stable, and stays at home in the hope of a second Group One prize in the Ladbrokes Vincent O'Brien National Stakes. But he must prove himself over an extra furlong, and in Chabal and especially Kingsfort faces impressive maiden winners thrown in at the deep end by respected trainers.

Proper competition for Ballydoyle, then. And that is something they may have to get used to.

Seta's reputation wilts while Pollenator blooms

Rebuked beforehand by her trainer, Luca Cumani, bookmakers were duly made to look absurd when Seta was turned over at Doncaster yesterday. Somehow made as short as 6-1 for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas next May after an impressive debut at Newmarket, the filly conceivably registered better form when third to Pollenator in the DFS May Hill Stakes.

After travelling eagerly, she took it up under Kieren Fallon approaching the furlong pole but Hibaayeb retrieved the lead inside the last and the pair were then overhauled by a strong finish from Pollenator, a Motivator filly trained by Richard Hannon.

Of course, Seta may yet prove a high-class filly. "I'm never surprised with anything that happens with horses," Cumani shrugged. "She's a little weak and will improve. And Kieren was surprised how well she quickened, and I think she has paid the penalty for it."

Pollenator's jockey, Ryan Moore, was riding against Fallon for the first time since the six-times champion's comeback, having himself been suspended for the past week, and laid down a marker for the defence of his title next year by also winning the DFS Doncaster Cup on Askar Tau.

The Godolphin juvenile team, meanwhile, kept up their prolific run through Sand Vixen and the very promising colt Al Zir.

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Stolt (4.30 Chester) Only worn down inside the last off a 9lb higher mark on his only previous visit to a track that plays to his strengths, and showed renewed signs of life at Doncaster during the week.

*Next best

Start Right (4.40 Doncaster) Pulled well clear of the pack in duelling with a useful type at Warwick last time, all the while suggesting that the extra furlong and galloping track today will prompt further improvement still.

*One to watch

Earlsmedic (S C Williams) returned from a lay-off without his usual visor and dropped to 5f at Doncaster on Wednesday, but kept on well through traffic for fourth. Won three races last summer and poised to resume that thread now.

*Where the money's going

Darley Sun the new 8-1 favourite from 14-1 with the Totesport Cesarewitch sponsors after finishing second to Askar Tau at Doncaster yesterday.