Free Eagle has talent to soar above Classic pair

Fields Of Athenry can build on Ebor run to give O’Brien fifth St Leger win

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The Independent Online

Given some luck with the weather, and plenty is needed given the forecast, today promises to be the highlight of the European Flat season so far; the St Leger at Doncaster merely a warm-up act for the big show across the water at Leopardstown two hours later when Golden Horn, Gleneagles and six other high-class rivals do battle for the Irish Champion Stakes.

There is a reluctance to become too excited about the eagerly anticipated meeting between the Derby winner and the dual 2,000 Guineas winner just in case it is scuppered again by the rain, but it will take more than a downpour to turn this whole fine racing occasion into a damp squib.

Even if the ground remains fast, the main event is no two-horse race with Free Eagle, in particular, a most attractive alternative to the two Classic winners. His trainer, Dermot Weld, has had two specific races in mind for this hugely talented four-year-old from the very start of the campaign – this race and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – and such selective planning counts for much come the autumn.

Golden Horn’s shock first defeat in the Juddmonte International at York was probably down mostly to poorly executed tactics – his trainer, John Gosden, admits as much. Nevertheless, he lost his aura of invincibility. Gleneagles, regardless of the ground, is entering unknown territory on his first attempt over 10 furlongs; connections are hopeful, rather than  confident, that he will stay the extra distance.

As was strongly rumoured earlier in the week, Order Of St George misses the St Leger owing to the quickening Town Moor ground and will run instead in the Irish equivalent at the Curragh tomorrow, but Aidan O’Brien still holds a strong hand with Bondi Beach (now ridden by Colm O’Donoghue) and Fields Of Athenry, as the Ballydoyle trainer challenges for his fifth Doncaster Classic.

There was little between Storm The Stars and Bondi Beach at York last month in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, an established Leger trial, and they are understandably joint-favourites, but Fields Of Athenry should not be underestimated.

On the face of it, finishing fifth in a handicap is no great advertisement for a potential Classic winner, but that handicap was the Ebor, in which he carried a huge weight for a three-year-old and, from the widest draw, did well to get to the front after a slow start and stay there until early exertions took their toll late on.

The records show that Peleid was beaten into fourth in the 1973 Ebor carrying 20lb less than Fields Of Athenry prior to winning the St Leger and, although times may have changed, not by that much. It is not too difficult to imagine the champion jockey-elect Silvestre de Sousa leading them all a merry dance to land his first Classic.

Rain is also expected at Doncaster this morning, but the ground was quick enough yesterday for Gutaifan to break the juvenile track record in the Flying Childers Stakes over five furlongs.

Clearly, this is a colt with speed, but his trainer Richard Hannon is thinking about stepping him back up to six furlongs for the Group One Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket later this month.

The quirky Pallasator was up to his old tricks before the Doncaster Cup, but behaved impeccably once he got down to business and put his best foot forward to see off Clondaw Warrior.

Time is now definitely up for Times Up, retired immediately after finishing down the field in his attempt to win in the race a third time.

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