A fascinating renewal of the world’s oldest Classic is set to light up Town Moor for Doncaster’s biggest sporting day out on Saturday.
In a racing era inclined to breed horses more for speed than stamina, it has become fashionable to knock the endurance test for staying three-year-olds that is the St Leger.
But the hordes set to flock to the course in their thousands this weekend cannot complain about the quality of the 2017 William Hill-sponsored race, which is the £700,000 highlight of Doncaster’s four-day Leger Festival.
Top-class representatives from the major stables of Aidan O’Brien, John Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute and Roger Varian all take their chance in a richly competitive heat. What’s more, O’Brien’s son, Joseph, also saddles a runner (Rekindling) in a gallant attempt to become the first person to both ride and train a Leger winner.
The genius that is O’Brien Snr, seeking his fifth Leger triumph, fields at least three, all sons of supersire Galileo and spearheaded by Capri, a dour, dogged galloper. The form of Capri’s Irish Derby win is the pick of the race, but it would be no surprise if stablemate Venice Beach appreciated the 1m6f distance much better after an encouraging prep outing at York’s Ebor Festival last month.
Gosden has won three of the last ten Legers and is an unashamed devotee. In Tony Barber’s brilliant tome, published last year, charting the Leger’s 241-year history, the Newmarket handler described it as “the one race that demands mental strength, athletic prowess, depth of resources, durability and stamina”. In Cracksman, third in the Derby at Epsom, Gosden appeared to have the ideal candidate. But instead he relies on Stradivarius, who claimed the scalp of the most popular Flat horse in training, Big Orange, in the Goodwood Cup, and Coronet, who bids to become only the second winning filly since 1992.
Like Stradivarius, Varian’s Defoe has progressed from handicaps this term. Unlike Stradivarius, the grey will relish the testing ground on Saturday and is reportedly working like a trooper on the gallops.
An unusual feature of this year’s Leger is that none of the principal contenders raise concerns about stamina. Stoute’s Crystal Ocean is unproven over the trip, but quickened and stayed with classy aplomb last time and is a worthy favourite.
Here is my idea of how they will finish in the William Hill St Leger, to be run at 3.35 at Doncaster on Saturday:
1 CRYSTAL OCEAN
3 VENICE BEACH