Under a clear, bright azure sky on a golden early autumn afternoon, Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin team regained its Classic place in the sun as Mastery beat his better- fancied stablemate Kite Wood to take the 233rd St Leger. And there was a certain fitness to the winner's name; the Sheikh has been playing a long game in plotting his road back to the top and yesterday's Group One triumph capped two days that promise so much for the blues' future and the ongoing rivalry with the sport's other superpower, John Magnier's Coolmore-Ballydoyle empire.
Mastery's three-quarter length defeat of Kite Wood was Godolphin's first Classic victory in this country since Rule Of Law took the same gruelling contest five years ago, and the first at the top level here since Creachadoir's Lockinge Stakes in May last year. There have been many others worldwide including four in the States in the past two months, but they are regarded as a bonus rather than an imperative.
"We are a global operation but being involved in British racing at the top is what motivates us," said the Sheikh's racing manager Simon Crisford. "It's the hardest place to win in the world and so success here is the sweetest of all."
Ted Durcan's mount Mastery started at 14-1 to land the £306,586 first prize. Kite Wood, chosen by Frankie Dettori, was 9-4 favourite. After tracking the rank outsider Von Jawlensky, doing trailblazing duty for his Ballydoyle comrade Changingoftheguard, Dettori sent Kite Wood for home halfway down the long straight, prompting a roar of approval from the huge Town Moor crowd.
Mastery, who had slipstreamed him throughout, was the only one to go with him and the two bay colts went head-to-head through the final furlong and the difference may have been the ground. Mastery revels on fast conditions; Kite Wood prefers ease under his feet. They drew a length and three-quarters clear of Monitor Closely who challenged gamely from off the pace but did not quite see out the marathon test.
It was a second Classic success for Durcan, after the Oaks on Light Shift – also a stable second choice – two years ago. "Frankie and I had the run of the race behind the pacemaker," he said, "and it was always between him and me. I let him have first run and then sluiced up behind him and at the one-marker I knew I had him. Mine loved the ground and stays very well."
Mastery's success was the 101st at the top level worldwide for Godolphin, a total launched by Balanchine in the 1994 Oaks. The blues still trail Ballydoyle; O'Brien has sent out 156 Group or Grade One winners, the first being Desert King in the National Stakes in 1996. Neither outfit was able to improve on their totals in yesterday's other Group One races, both at the Curragh. In the Irish St Leger, the Ballydoyle-based stayer Yeats floundered on rain-sodden ground, an eased down-last behind John Oxx-trained Alandi. And the best his three two-year-old stablemates could do in the National Stakes was Beethoven's third behind Kingsfort from Kevin Prendergast's yard.
Godolphin produced three bright youth squad prospects here in Al Zir and Sand Vixen on Friday and Poet's Voice, ready winner of the Champagne Stakes yesterday. The son of Dubawi ran with the choke out for most of the seven furlongs but had enough in reserve to repel Ballydoyle's Viscount Nelson.
A bad day was made worse for O'Brien by the knowledge that his erstwhile St Leger favourite Age Of Aquarius, scratched because of a minor injury on Thursday, had beaten Mastery at Longchamp in July. The winner that day, the André Fabre-trained Cavalryman, will bid to continue the Godolphin resurgence in this afternoon's Prix Niel on Arc trials day at the Paris track.Reuse content