Very few people in its history could have received a trophy from Lester Piggott here yesterday and credibly compared the ground each had broken on the Turf. But then nor can many horses have won over this storied track under a saddle containing over 60lbs of lead. Such, however, were the curiosities savoured by those privileged to witness a nostalgic turn by Julie Krone, the tiny Titan of American sport.
That there were so few reflected culpably on the way even the Ladbrokes St Leger meeting must be conducted in such meek conformity to the whims of television. At 4ft 10in, the most successful female jockey of all time has long been accustomed to punching above her weight, and duly redressed a lamentable lack of theatre to its opening day. The only woman to have ridden the winner of a Triple Crown race, and the only one to win at the Breeders' Cup, Krone ensured that a race of no inherent consequence – a classified stakes for retired jockeys, on horses rated 0-70 – obtained a genuine tint of history.
At 48, eight years after her second retirement, Krone still talks and thinks faster than most of the male rivals who for so long embodied the barriers of convention. To 3,704 career winners back home, and three ridden on one rainy evening at Redcar back in 1992, she can now add the name of Invincible Hero, who easily saw off the mounts of Charlie Swan and 64-year-old George Duffield.
Afterwards Krone hooked her arms over the parade ring rail and panted comically, before hoisting aloft her five-year-old daughter. "Let's be clear about one thing first," she said. "We all know I was on the best horse. I can tell you that because, with my fitness level, he only had half a rider today. When I saw the eighth pole I just gave him a couple of token swats, to say please keep going, and tried not to bounce around too much."
Be that as it may, she plainly retains sufficient vestiges of the old flair to deal with a straight green mile after turning left on dirt tracks for so many years. And while she emerged from the weighing room at a limping trot, otherwise she has plainly not permitted the slightest diminution in her exuberance.
"I feel so honoured by the whole experience, and am so grateful to so many people," she enthused. "I rode out 40 days in a row at home, for Eoin Harty and Richard Mandella. The collective experience of that group of riders out there was mind-boggling, but I've never had so many congratulations pulling up. And it's all been about two amazing causes: the work done by Jack Berry and the Injured Jockeys' Fund is wonderful, and I've fallen in love with everyone at the Northern Racing College. It was just so cool to see the passion and desire of the students there."
She had walked the track earlier with Michael Dickinson, whose own achievements either side of the Atlantic – as a trainer of both Cheltenham and Breeders' Cup winners – balance out rather more evenly. "Julie is a great rider and person, but very modest," he said. "She rode quite a few winners for me in America. She's just a natural, has really good hands, and often earned the riding fee before she got out of the paddock because she got horses so relaxed."
Proceedings will not be so enlivened every year, of course, and it seems a pity that the curtain cannot instead be raised more reliably by something like the Champagne Stakes – nowadays overshadowed on the Saturday card by the Leger itself. As it was, Humidor was artfully sheltered from the headwind before being produced to win a listed sprint under Frankie Dettori, while Richard Hughes twice showed that it remained possible to conserve energy in the lead with two beautifully judged rides on Eureka and Cai Shen. Sahara Sun, the South American import making his debut for Luca Cumani, finished only sixth of eight behind the latter – but could hardly have shaped better in beating so few. Weak in the market, he looked rusty but was gathering momentum late and connections may yet be justified in his Melbourne Cup entry.
Things pick up a little today, however, with Channel 4 deigning to take an interest. Chachamaidee looks equal to her status as Sir Henry Cecil's only significant runner of the meeting, in the JRA Sceptre Stakes, but she could be on new ground judged from an overnight forecast for rain. In the other Group race, Set To Music is entitled to maintain her astounding recent improvement but again testing ground would complicate matters, with her stamina to prove over this longer trip.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Burj Nahar (4.40 Doncaster) Must be pardoned a shocker at Haydock last time but a tongue-tie today hints at what went wrong that day, and this beautifully bred colt had looked better than a handicapper on his previous start at this trip.
Dimension (4.10 Doncaster) Has repeatedly suggested himself better than this sort of rating, and the drop in distance looks the prompt for him to do so, after again travelling brightly last time.
One to watch
Valencha (Hughie Morrison) Continues to thrive, seeing off all bar a flourishing rival at Ascot on Saturday having travelled best for longest, and looking more than ready for a drop back to 7f.
Where the money's going
Paddy Power laid Fame And Glory from 11-10 to 10-11 for the Irish Field St Leger on Saturday while his stablemate, Seville, is 7-1 from 9-1 for the Doncaster original the same afternoon.Reuse content