Leger's lustre fades without Stars

Ten declared at Doncaster as oldest Classic again looks in need of rejuvenation
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The Independent Online

John Oxx still reckons the Triple Crown will be won within the next 10 years, which should just about give the humdrum animals contesting the Ladbrokes St Leger on Saturday time to complete the course. In the meantime, pessimists will wonder whether Oxx himself has sabotaged his own prophecy.

As winner of both the 2,000 Guineas and Derby, Sea The Stars was the first eligible candidate for the Triple Crown since Nashwan also declined the Leger challenge, 20 years ago. But Oxx has long been adamant that his champion would never be asked to bridge the gap to Nijinksy, the last Triple Crown winner in 1970. And, in his absence, the St Leger seems to be relying ever more precariously on its venerable status as the oldest Classic of them all.

It is not just sentiment, of course, that nourishes fidelity to the Leger. The race rewards precisely those assets that tend to make commercial breeders queasy. There is no fast buck in the yearling who will only come into his own when galloping a mile and six furlongs. But such physical and mental tenacity represent the breed's family silver, and it is depressing to come across it at car boot sales, instead of Sotheby's.

In fairness, the landscape has improved somewhat since the world's most influential stud, Coolmore, began restoring glamour to the staying genes of two outstanding young stallions in Galileo and Montjeu. "I can see the Triple Crown being won," Oxx says. "But it will be by a son of Montjeu, Galileo or Dalakhani, who has the speed for a mile but a mile-and-a-half pedigree."

Sea The Stars is a half-brother to Galileo, but Oxx could never entertain the possibility his sire, Cape Cross, might produce a Leger winner. Others consider him so much better than those colts who will be at Doncaster that he could coast home on class alone. Simon Crisford, the stable's racing manager, candidly acknowledges that Godolphin's Kite Wood would be "eaten alive" by Sea The Stars. Instead, with just 10 left in the race, he shares 5-2 favouritism with Age Of Aquarius in the sponsor's betting.

As it is, Sea The Stars, described by Oxx as "very fresh" after his thrilling performance at Leopardstown on Saturday, will tackle the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, granted suitable conditions. Nijinsky, notoriously, was beaten at Longchamp after running at Doncaster, and that still sends a chill shadow across trainers contemplating the lucrative late-season prizes nowadays available overseas. Perhaps they did not notice that Conduit, the 232nd Leger winner, proceeded to Santa Anita last year and ran out an exuberant winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf.

You will not catch anyone at Godolphin demeaning the race. They are constantly being reminded they have not won a British Classic since Rule Of Law won the 2004, St Leger and Kite Wood would be their first Group One success in Europe this year.

Crisford was duly dismayed to hear that the straight is already Good to Firm, with a dry forecast. "Kite Wood's a much better horse with cut in the ground," he cautioned. "He's obviously a very progressive horse, mentally he's getting his act together and physically he is coming to the peak of his prowess. I think next year he will be better than this year, but he's developing into a really strong, powerful galloper. But on the day I think there might be horses with more gears."

The stable's second string, Mastery, will at least be comfortable with the conditions – but Crisford expressed reservations about the substance of his form when third in the Grand Prix de Paris.

In turn, however, that would weaken the case for Age Of Aquarius, the runner-up that day, and the best Ballydoyle contender may yet prove to be Changingoftheguard, so unlucky in the Ebor at York last month. Aidan O'Brien, their trainer, does not yet know whether Johnny Murtagh will choose between this pair, or stay at the Curragh to ride Yeats in the Irish Field St Leger, as well as one of the stable's best juveniles in the Ladbrokes National Stakes.

There is, of course, an obvious solution. Kieren Fallon, replaced by Murtagh as Ballydoyle stable jockey when given an 18-month drugs suspension, rode a 254-1 treble for Luca Cumani at Folkestone yesterday. That must be saluted as an astonishing achievement for a man who only made his comeback last Friday. Cumani is eager to establish a formal association with Fallon, and they team up again in a listed race at Goodwood today. Fallon is already booked to ride for Cumani at Doncaster on Saturday, but his old patrons at Ballydoyle might note that he is still available in the Leger itself. For all the exasperations they will remember of his time in their service, there would seem little point in leaving him to watch the race in the weighing room.

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Folly Bridge (3.20 Lingfield)

Cold in the market before her debut in a strong maiden at Salisbury but warmed up nicely in the race, keeping on for third, and even without the likely improvement that form – the runner-up, Dafeef, has scored since – makes her the one to beat here.

Next best

Mon Cadeaux (3.45 Goodwood)

A well backed and decisive winner when Folly Bridge made her debut, having already posted strong form on his own first start when runner-up to the smart Blue Maiden at Newmarket. His strong finish and stout maternal pedigree together imply further progress over the extra furlong here.

One to watch

Free Grain (John Dunlop) made a promising debut in a strong maiden at Salisbury last Thursday. With her classy staying pedigree in mind, she excelled in running on through traffic from midfield in a race that did not remotely tap into her stamina.

Where the Money's Going

The sponsors make Monitor Closely, supplemented to the race yesterday, 6-1 for the Ladbrokes St Leger.