There is a tendency to belittle the St Leger, the oldest, longest and toughest of the five English Classics, as an irrelevance in the modern arena. Its distance, a gruelling, extended mile and three-quarters, is nowadays seen as way beyond the optimum for a potential stallion to advertise his merits, a kiss of death in the bloodstock industry that drives the sport on the track.
That last is undoubtedly true; the last St Leger hero to become champion sire was Nijinsky, who completed his Triple Crown at Doncaster, and the only recent winner who is not currently doing duty as a jumps sire is Conduit, who subsequently netted three top-level wins over shorter before starting his second career in Japan.
But the St Leger, a Group One contest with a prize fund of more than £500,000, is still a race the professionals want on their CV and, importantly, provides a compelling spectacle as equine fortitude is tested the length of the demanding Doncaster straight. The top yards love to win it; the Godolphin team, responsible for this year's favourite, Rewilding, will be seeking their sixth success in the Ladbrokes-sponsored 234th running and the Ballydoyle operation, with the second market choice Midas Touch and Joshua Tree due to line up, their fourth.
And if these horses are merely very, very good, rather than brilliant, so what? True brilliance is rare commodity and the best on Saturday week may prove in coming seasons to be exactly the sort of durable top-level performers the sport now demands. Conduit, for instance, went on to take a King George and two Breeders' Cup Turfs; Scorpion a Coronation Cup; Mutafaweq a Deutschland-Preis, a Coronation Cup and a Canadian International.
The St Leger's position in the calendar historically made it the seasonal decider for top horses but its status in the modern era has been eroded not only by the condemnation by the breeding industry of the once-prized virtue of stamina, but also by a plethora of alternative valuable autumn targets.
As such it is no longer the automatic destination for a Derby winner; the last to face the Town Moor challenge was Reference Point, who was owned by a true Turf traditionalist, Louis Freedman, and completed the Classic double in 1987. But the race will still be graced this time with solid Epsom form in the shape of the Derby third Rewilding and Snow Fairy, winner of the Oaks.
Snow Fairy is third favourite, as short as 5-1 with the race sponsors, and yesterday came the clearest indication yet from trainer Ed Dunlop that Cristina Patino's home-bred would stay among her contemporaries to tackle her third Classic, rather than the all-aged Prix Vermeille at Longchamp the next day.
The ground has always been the key to her participation – she operates best away from soggy conditions – and a favourable forecast is concentrating Newmarket-based Dunlop's mind on South Yorkshire. "The weather will ultimately decide for us," he said, "but they are not talking about any rain up there for at least the next week and so there is a good chance that Snow Fairy will be at Doncaster. We'll be keeping watch on what happens from above. But she has come out of her race at York very well indeed."
That latest run was the Yorkshire Oaks, where her attempt to gain a third successive Group One victory, after the Epsom and Curragh Oaks, was thwarted only by the star four-year-old Midday. That day, Richard Hughes deputised for the injured Ryan Moore, the Intikhab filly's regular rider. "I'd love to have Ryan ride her again," added Dunlop, "but if he's not available I'm sure we'll get a few offers."
Though fillies are eligible to run in the 2,000 Guineas and Derby, the St Leger is where any Classic battle of the sexes is usually joined. The latest of the 41 fillies to win was User Friendly 18 years ago, but since then there have been some near misses, with High And Low, Ramruma, Quiff and Unsung Heroine all runners-up.
User Friendly was top class; she had already completed the Oaks treble and went on to the narrowest of defeats in the Arc and prestige victories in Paris and California the following year. But none of the others named went to Doncaster with a higher official rating than Snow Fairy.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Two Feet Of Snow (3.50 Lingfield) Found the drop in class and artificial surface ideal last time and a quick follow-up under similar conditions looks likely.
Lady Florence (3.30 Brighton) Has won five times at this quirky course.
One to watch
The race in which Pabusar (R M Beckett) was just touched off at York has already produced two subsequent winners.
Where the money's going
Fame And Glory is 7-2 favourite for the Breeders' Cup Turf with Hills.
Chris McGrath's Nap
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