The predicament of the oldest Classic is condensed by the twin dilemmas facing John Gosden as he sought future champions in Keeneland yesterday. As he said himself, even as another yearling was paraded before him: "Everyone here wants speed, speed, speed, but if you're not careful that way you'll end up with a whole dimension disappearing." At the same time, he knows that his own prospects in the Ladbrokes St Leger may themselves be diluted by a lack of stamina.
With Aidan O'Brien accounting for half of the dozen acceptors, Gosden's Lucarno represents Britain's best chance of keeping the prize at home. He had the mettle to master four Ballydoyle rivals in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York last month, but Gosden was immediately wary of the extra two and a half furlongs at Doncaster on Saturday. Only now does he finally seem prepared to commit the son of Dynaformer.
"Aidan had us surrounded at York, but we managed to slip clear of him," Gosden said. "The likelihood is that we'll run. But he's out of a fast mare, and there's a lot of speed on the dam side. We've said all along that the extended trip is the issue, that's why we've been a bit hesitant.
"I'm clear the track will suit him well, but we're slightly entering no-man's-land in the last two furlongs, and it's not a track that lets you get away with not quite getting the trip."
Unraced at two, Lucarno overcame his inexperience to run fourth in the Derby, but has repeatedly hinted that he might be even better over a mile and a quarter. Fortunately Gosden has a belt to go with his braces in Raincoat, who has not really built upon his comeback behind Authorized at York in May but should, in contrast, relish this first proper test of stamina.
"When he was third at Goodwood, it was one of those silly races where they might as well have started from the head of the straight," Gosden said. "But we've had this race in mind for months, the trip should suit him well, and I think he's been slightly forgotten."
The sponsors are certainly doing their part, a prize fund of £500,000 exceeded by only two other British Flat races. But with the sole Group One scorer, Soldier Of Fortune, left in only as a precaution, the fact is that Lucarno and Mahler are the only candidates with a Group success to their name. The favourite, Honolulu, was beaten in a handicap last time and it was Regal Flush's success in that grade at Haydock on Saturday that yesterday prompted Sir Michael Stoute – still craving a first Leger – to supplement him.
John Dunlop, moreover, is running a maiden, Samuel. One of the race's great defenders, Dunlop admitted that nowadays "the Triple Crown as a concept is probably outdated" but insisted that the Leger remains "hugely important".
In fairness, with weight-for-age and immaturity in mind, Honolulu ran a terrific race when second in the Ebor. And O'Brien also expects improvement from Mahler, Macarthur and Acapulco, all behind Lucarno at York. "Mahler had a break after Ascot and we used the Voltigeur as a step on the way back," he said. "He has come forward since. Macarthur came back sore from Leopardstown [in May], so we were happy with his run at York. And Acapulco had a long break after the Derby."
O'Brien, seeking his fourth win, also emphasised his affection for the race. "It can set a horse up for the rest of its life," he said. "You learn a lot about a horse in the Leger." And that, of course, is precisely why he may not fear Lucarno.
Nap: Gipsy Prince(Lingfield 4.40)
NB: Ahlawy (Beverley 3.30)Reuse content