It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the best race of the weekend. It may not be the best of the day, either – not even the best St Leger of the day. But it remains a venerable heirloom, consecrated by the longest history of any Classic and the defiant affection of many horsemen.
As the defining ritual of one of sport's least affected venues, the Ladbrokes St Leger retains a vital grassroots role on the modern Turf. Fortunately, those most committed to the race are also among the least complacent about its standing. The sponsors have pledged their support until at least 2011, and have made it one of the three most valuable prizes offered on the British Flat. But they acknowledge that it is going to take more than cash to bring back the kudos.
Rightly, they are rejecting suggestions that the St Leger, first run in 1776, might be opened up to older horses. True, the Irish version, also staged today, must be counted superior precisely because it is open to two veteran Group One performers, Yeats and Scorpion. But it is increasingly critical that younger horses can prosper by dint of stamina and fortitude – the very last assets on the minds of most people attending the elite yearling sale at Keeneland this week. For if the St Leger is weary, or sick, it must be because the same is true of the breed itself.
Scorpion, of course, first proved his mettle by winning at Doncaster, and his defeat there last year did not prevent Red Rocks from finding fresh reserves to win no less a prize than the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Perhaps myopia among commercial breeders will gradually be refracted by the emergence of Montjeu and Galileo at Coolmore Stud. Last year, the first three in the St Leger all belonged to Galileo's first crop. Coolmore's owners are perfectly capable of influencing fashion, and their four runners today are divided between Montjeu and Galileo.
These include the favourite, Honolulu, whose defeat in a handicap at York last time offers convenient ammunition for cynics. But weight-for-age, together with the seasoned opposition in the Ebor, means that Honolulu recorded a high-class effort to finish second that day. That was only his fourth start, but while he was great value at 7-1 after the Ebor, the odds now offer little margin for error.
British hopes of quelling the Ballydoyle raiders ostensibly centre on Lucarno, but this classy colt runs as though he would sooner be dropped in distance than moved up. Regal Flush has had very little time to absorb a generous effort at Haydock last weekend, while Veracity's performance at Goodwood is best considered a compliment to the colt who had previously thrashed him over two miles at Royal Ascot.
Mahler grew in authority as the race progressed that day, and the drop to a mile and a half after a break understandably caught him out at York last month. He has thrived since and it is easy to picture him devouring this long straight, gradually breaking the resistance of more glamorous rivals. If he can do that, of course, he will provide a wholesome example for the race itself.
Sheikh's sporting New Approach
Among Sheikh Mohammed's many investments this summer, none seems more fitting than New Approach. After all, he is going to unprecedented lengths to refresh the genetic profile of his bloodstock empire, including a half-share in the young colt immodestly described as "a European Secretariat" by his trainer, Jim Bolger.
But the sheikh plainly retains his old values, too, and racing fans are indebted to whatever role he may have had in letting New Approach contest the best juvenile race of the season so far at the Curragh tomorrow.
In the first place, the honour of the Pattern system has been upheld by the decision to run New Approach in the Group One National Stakes, rather than the Goffs Million at the same track yesterday. In that respect, at least, we should be grateful that Sheikh Mohammed could afford not to be tempted. (Come to that, the same is presumably true nowadays of Bolger himself, along with everyone else who has done business with the Sheikh this summer.)
But it was also sporting of the sheikh to run New Approach against Rio De La Plata, whose brilliant success at Goodwood suggested that he might finally stem Godolphin's recent irrelevance in the top juvenile races.
The sheikh's rivals at Coolmore must obey very different imperatives. Their own recent purchase, Myboycharlie, made a flawless debut for them at Deauville, but the extra furlong and faster ground are both imponderables. New Approach, in contrast, looks the sort to keep up the gallop over longer distances in time, and must show a different side on this faster ground. Likewise Famous Name, a Dansili colt trained by Dermot Weld for Khaled Abdulla, winner of a Naas maiden by seven lengths in soft ground.
Anyone venal enough to require a bet should therefore trust Rio De La Plata, with his stable in top form, to make his acceleration tell. But this is a race for purists – none more so, seemingly, than the sheikh himself.
Septimus confirms his class in Cup
Septimus yesterday confirmed the pedestrian nature of the present crop of British stayers when routing his rivals for the GNER Doncaster Cup, beating Geordieland by five lengths. Remember the runner-up managed to get within a couple of lengths of Yeats at Royal Ascot, qualifying Septimus as no mere understudy to his mighty stablemate.
The hot favourite also won the other Group race on the card, Fleeting Spirit outpacing her rivals for the Polypipe Flying Childers Stakes. There was a terrifying episode beforehand, Olivier Peslier bailing out as his mount, Proud Linus, apparently demented, careered over two sets of rails. Fortunately, after several anxious minutes, the Frenchman was able to sit up and got away with a few scratches and bruises.
River Proud can stem O'Brien tide
Henrythenavigator having lost his way – temporarily, at least – attention at Ballydoyle turns to another budding star in William Hogarth, a High Chaparral colt who makes his debut at the Curragh tomorrow. He has already been backed for next year's Derby, but Kieren Fallon leaves him to Colm O'Donoghue, instead riding the more experienced Greatwallofchina.
Aidan O'Brien also sends two sons of Storm Cat to Doncaster today for the Urban-I Champagne Stakes, and One Great Cat could certainly reverse Goodwood form with Strike The Deal over this extra furlong. The faster ground could also bring out improvement, but River Proud (2.10) has been given time to mature since meeting Winker Watson at Newmarket in July and can confirm himself one of the best juveniles in Britain.
Fantasy Believer is now only 1lb higher than when bolting up in the Ladbrokes Portland Handicap last year and has been shaping ominously well. But Gift Horse (2.45) is now treated still more leniently, and ran a neon trial when first sampling a visor over this course and distance last month.
Luck Money rolls in for Quinn and Cole
Richard Quinn can afford to retire all over again after Luck Money, trained by Paul Cole, hit the jackpot at the Curragh yesterday. Back in May this colt gave him the first success of his resumed career, and a decisive success in the Goffs Million will seal his place in Quinn's affections. Certainly the jockey will not share the ambivalence others may feel about the gross rewards offered in these races. At least this one went to a deserving colt, one good enough to have run third in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot. He was driven out to beat another British raider, Hitchens, by two and a half lengths.
The fillies' race proved yet another benefit for Jim Bolger. Though Lush Lashes was the only runner making her debut, she had enough wit to see off Rinterval, sent over by Richard Hannon, by a length. Finsceal Beo, remember, was beaten here last year and their trainer is already thinking in terms of the Stan James 1,000 Guineas for Lush Lashes, as well. The sponsors saluted her with a quote of 20-1.
Manduro faces Paris stamina test
Finally, for one of the best horses in the world, barely a footnote. That is the kind of weekend it is. But then that is the kind of race awaiting Manduro tomorrow.
Notoriously, the Arc trials at Longchamp are little more than sparring sessions. In the Prix Niel, for instance, Zambezi River and Soldier Of Fortune are returning from a break and nobody will expect their jockeys to be too severe, three weeks before they meet Authorized over the same course and distance. Indeed, the word from France is that they may struggle to cope with Sageburg, the André Fabre wild card.
As a son of Johannesburg, he must prove his stamina – and likewise his stablemate in the Prix Foy. Manduro has so blossomed over shorter trips this year that you can only believe him as effective at this distance when you see it. With small fields in both races, of course, Sageburg and Manduro may not deliver a definitive answer until the big day.
As a Group One race in its own right, the Prix Vermeille for fillies is likely to be contested rather more ardently. And with his horses entering autumn much as they did the spring, Henry Cecil will be optimistic for Passage Of Time, racing for the first time since her failure in the Oaks.Reuse content