Sharaf looks main draw

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The Independent Online
The Derby form comes under the closest scrutiny next weekend, when the first three home at Epsom are all scheduled for action. Sadly for traditionalists, though, the winner Shaamit will not be in the St Leger line-up at Doncaster on Saturday; he sidesteps the final, longest and toughest Classic in favour of the Irish Champion Stakes the same afternoon.

Shaamit's connections have chosen to step down to 10 furlongs rather than up to a gruelling mile and three-quarters, not least to protect the colt's stud prospects, as victory in the St Leger is nowadays perceived as the kiss of death for a prospective stallion. And although his absence renders the debate academic, it will perhaps be a shame if history remembers him as only an ordinary Derby winner rather than as one of those admirable athletes with the qualities to win both great races.

For, make no mistake, the St Leger - in its 220th renewal the oldest Classic - is a great spectacle, and although modern demands of breeding value speed above stamina that is hardly the fault of the race.

The fact that the perceived best horses (which usually means the perceived best 12-furlong horses) often skip the St Leger during their Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe build-up is an acknowledgement that it is no easy number. And those who consider that the St Leger winner automatically lacks class need not be reminded that last year's winner, Classic Cliche, beat Shaamit when they met at Ascot in July.

Dushyantor, who finished second in the Derby, represents the best of the Epsom form this year and I wish him well as he goes into unknown territory, but the St Leger is not merely a Derby consolation. It is a race that imposes a different test, and I fancy the progressive Sharaf Kabeer, who has already won over the trip, will prove himself the season's best staying three- year-old.

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