There are ghosts of assorted ages queueing up to be laid at Doncaster on Saturday in the 226th St Leger. Can Sir Michael Stoute land his first St Leger? Will the race produce the first winner from its home county of Yorkshire since Peleid 29 years ago? Can Kazzia become the first filly Triple Crown winner since Oh So Sharp in 1985?
The answers may be yes, perhaps and probably not. The longest, oldest and toughest Classic is one of the very few domestic Group One contests to have eluded Stoute; the 15 horses he has sent to do battle round Town Moor's demanding extended mile and three-quarters have come back with no better than three runner-up spots.
The most notable failure was the ill-fated Shergar, fourth at 4-9 in 1981, and 21 years on Balakheri, in the same Aga Khan colours, can break the Doncaster duck for trainer and owner.
Balakheri's profile has been progressive all year. After finishing third in the Dante Stakes he comprehensively turned the tables on runner-up Bollin Eric, worse off at the weights than at York, over a mile and a half in the King Edward VII Stakes. The Theatrical colt has not been seen out since his creditable fifth in the Irish Derby (when Ballingarry, the likely No 1 from Ballydoyle, was third), but his recent work at home in Newmarket has been of a high quality. The distance should be well within his compass and the only caveat is that, as a heavy-topped type, he will appreciate easy ground.
The Yorkshire attack comes from Bandari, trained at Middleham by Mark Johnston, and Malton-based Tim Easterby's charge Bollin Eric, who were separated by a head and a neck when first and third, with Balakheri's stablemate Highest second, in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. Bandari showed his stomach for a fight that day; previously his victories had been of the runaway type.
The St Leger was nominated as Kazzia's target as soon as she added the Oaks to her 1,000 Guineas to become the first dual Classic winner since User Friendly followed her Epsom success with Doncaster triumph 10 years ago. But the pride of Godolphin disappointed when only fourth in the Yorkshire Oaks.
It has become fashionable in some quarters to mock the St Leger as an anachronism; but not, tellingly, among the cleverest professionals, who realise the importance of testing stamina in the Classic generation. The venerable race, into its fourth century, still provides a formid-able challenge and a fine spectacle.
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