Though his own professional prospects seem increasingly restricted by the passing of time – whether through injury, or a boss who is giving youth its chance – Michael Owen showed yesterday that experience still counts for plenty in another field of athletic endeavour. The Manchester United striker authorised a decision that even Sir Alex Ferguson might admire as hard-nosed in the replacement of Richard Kingscote by Kieren Fallon when Brown Panther lines up for the sport's oldest Classic at Doncaster on Saturday.
Tom Dascombe, the colt's trainer, has been conspicuously loyal to Kingscote and admitted to much soul-searching before concluding that Fallon should take over in the Ladbrokes St Leger. Kingscote has ridden Brown Panther in all his previous races, and saw Owen in tears of joy after their runaway success at Royal Ascot. But his patrons seemed disappointed after Brown Panther found himself making the running in the German Derby, fading into fifth. Some, conversely, argue that the colt was then set too much to do in his trial at Newbury last month; Timeform, moreover, suggesting that Kingscote became "a bit disorganised" in the straight.
"It has been a very tough decision," Dascombe said. "But I spoke to Michael at length about it, and it was decided that on this occasion we would go for a more experienced jockey. Richard has always done a very good job for me. But you don't have too many chances to win a Classic. It was a hard decision to make, and time will tell."
If Kingscote requires consolation, he could do worse than seek out Fallon. Back in 1989, still trying to make his name after coming over from Ireland, Fallon was denied his biggest opportunity yet when Pat Eddery replaced him on Sapience in the Ebor. Eddery duly landed a big gamble, but Fallon was back on board when Sapience went on to finish second in the Leger.
He has had just four rides in the race since, and the sponsors only give him an each-way chance (at 10-1) against Sea Moon. The 11-8 favourite won the Great Voltigeur Stakes by no fewer than eight lengths, but Sir Michael Stoute acknowledges that rather curious going at York may have played a part. "He loved those conditions on the Knavesmire that day," the trainer said. "There was plenty of moisture in the ground, it was a bit spongy and dead, and he might encounter very different conditions at Doncaster. But he's a three-parts brother to a Leger winner [Brian Boru] so I'd be pretty hopeful stamina won't be an issue."
Aidan O'Brien attributes Seville's disappointing run that day, at least in part, to "deadish, strange ground", reasoning that "he's a good-moving horse who likes to get a bit of kick off the ground". Though heavily represented in this race over recent years, the Ballydoyle trainer indicated that Seville would be his sole runner this time, albeit Wonder Of Wonders and Freedom remain in the race. The former, whose stamina has looked increasingly suspect even at a mile and a half, is instead likely to get an overdue drop in trip in the Prix de l'Opera, while Freedom's putative role looks irrelevant with the pace already guaranteed.
Godolphin have supplemented a pacemaker for Blue Bunting, in Rumh, while John Gosden reckons she will have to set a "kamikaze" gallop to give a lead to Buthelezi. But his principal hope remains Masked Marvel, who idled before being joined in a photo by Census at Newmarket in July. "Our fellow kicked on a long way out and started looking around," Gosden said. "He's on an upward curve, training very well, and has been freshened up for this."
As a dual Classic winner, Blue Bunting will warrant maximum respect in receipt of 3lb. "She's quite an odd filly to look at," Simon Crisford, the Godolphin manager, conceded. "Not a supermodel by any means. But she's super-tough, and very resolute. She keeps her condition so well, and is looking just as robust and healthy as she did in May."
That constitution means that Blue Bunting will stay in training. So there will be other days for her, regardless of what happens on Saturday, and Kingscote must persuade himself that the same holds true of his own future.
* Chris McGrath's Nap
Faith And Hope (3.00 Leicester)
Two-month break since disappointing here last time suggests that something may have been amiss and, returned in a tongue-tie, can prove herself well treated on best of her maiden runs.
* Next best
Humidor (4.00 Leicester)
* One to watch
Love Your Looks (Mike Murphy) was beaten a long way into third in a Kempton maiden last week, but traffic problems had left her with no chance in rear before she made up stylish ground in the straight.
* Where the money's going
With a growing chorus in favour of him trying the dirt, So You Think has been introduced to the Breeders' Cup Classic betting at 6-1 by William Hill.