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Last year British racing was shaken by an Australian horse, the bull-like Choisir, who blew in to collect not just one but two top sprints at Royal Ascot.
This year a fresh-faced 23-year-old from Streaky Bay, South Australia, his face more suited to a choirboy's smock than a set of racing silks, arrived in April to declare: “The horse did it, now the jockey's going to try.” And on Saturday Kerrin McEvoy, hired by the astute Godolphin operation as their number two rider in Britain, will be riding the favourite in Britain's oldest classic, the Doncaster St Leger.
If he wins, it will make him the first Australian to win a classic in Britain since Gary Moore in 1988, and the prospects are good.
Back in the 1960s, leading Australian riders such as Scobie Breasley, Ron Hutchinson and Bill Williamson were a significant part of the British racing scene. Since then, with pickings growing richer at home, fewer talented Australians have bothered to make the journey. But McEvoy, who won the Melbourne Cup on Brew when just a week out of his apprenticeship and whose grandfather, father and uncles have been jockeys and trainers, did not hesitate to take up Godolphin's offer after two part-seasons riding for it in Dubai.
Already he has made his mark, riding Sundrop to finish second in the 1,000 Guineas and Rule of Law, his mount on Saturday, to occupy the same position in the Derby. He has shown his ability to adapt to the more varied English tracks, which he wisely walks before he rides, and he even won on his first ride over the tricky Goodwood course.
McEvoy warmed up well for the big race by riding Warrsann to victory in Germany's Grosser Preis von Baden for Clive Brittain on Sunday, his biggest Continental success so far, and now with Frankie Dettori on duty in Ireland he has the chance to seize his first British classic.
The St Leger, over one mile and six furlongs, tends to be contested by the “nearly” horses from the Derby with an extra drop of staying blood, horses that will make good long-distance Cup candidates the next year. Sure enough, this year the second and third in this summer's Derby, Rule of Law and Let The Lion Roar, are among the principals with Rule of Law the favourite on the strength of his fluent victory in last month's Great Voltigeur Stakes at York when ridden by Dettori.
Rule of Law's victory over Let The Lion Roar in that race was the fourth time he had beaten him this season, but jockey Richard Quinn, who won the St Leger on Let The Lion Roar's half-brother Millenary, remains hopeful of a big winner on his return from a cracked bone in his knee.
Sir Michael Stoute, who has surprisingly never won the St Leger, has two hot candidates in the shape of Maraahel, an impressive winner of the Group Three ABN Amro Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, and champion jockey Kieren Fallon's mount Quiff, who won the Yorkshire Oaks last month by a stunning 11 lengths but who will not want the ground too firm.
Aidan O'Brien, mostly out of luck this year, runs Tycoon, who was third in the Irish Derby, and an intriguing contestant is Darsalam, trained in the Czech Republic by the Russian handler Arslangirey Shavuyev.
Darsalam did little when trained in Middleham last year by Mark Johnston and was sold for just 6,500 guineas, but he has won his last five starts from his new base, including the Austrian Derby, the Czech Derby and the Czech St Leger on August 29.
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