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As surely as swallows fly south, you can count on a covey of racing sages at this time musing about the future of the St Leger, Britain’s oldest Classic, this year being run at York instead of Doncaster, which has the builders in.
A stamina test over 1m 6f in days when the accent is so much on speed, the St Leger is not in fashion. No winner of one of the season’s other four Classics has won the St Leger since 1992. The race tends these days to be won by a worthy horse rather than a great one and usually finds itself on its September Saturday up against the Irish Champion Stakes, always a big draw and this year featuring the fabulous Ouija Board.
But thoroughbred breeding requires stamina as well as speed. St Leger winners should not be regarded only as potential jumping sires, and racing will rue the day if it ever downgrades a race won by such great horses as Ballymoss, St Paddy, Ragusa and Nijinsky. Staying races often provide racing’s best spectacles.
This year the gloom merchants have been as self-
satisfied as pigs in muck. Yorkshire’s top prospect Linas Selection misses the race through injury, as does stablemate Soapy Danger. Youmzain, who won the best St Leger trial, York’s Great Voltigeur Stakes, and who might have provided trainer Mick Channon with an elusive first Classic success, has been directed elsewhere by owner Jaber Abdullah, who was apprehensive about the Leger’s distance. Dragon Dancer, beaten just a nose in the Derby, is racing in a French Arc trial for preference.
St Leger defenders would enjoy victory for trainer Jeremy Noseda’s long-time favourite Sixties Icon. Noseda was taken to the race every year by his father and robustly declares, in language which could these days probably see him summoned before the Race Relations Commission: “To me English Classics are the great races in the world. It’s the home of racing and any English Classic would be worth five French Classics.”
Noseda’s candidate will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, who nearly put Godolphin’s noses out of joint permanently by accepting the ride on Scorpion last year to score his third success in the race in the colours of arch rivals Coolmore.
Channon has another candidate in Championship Point while Sir Michael Stoute, who has never won the race despite a number of fancied contenders, runs Ask.
Aidan O’Brien, trainer of three of the past five Leger winners, runs three this time: Tusculum, Mountain and the possibly underrated Fire and Rain.
Marcus Tregoning, another trainer who has the patience to cope with staying types and who warns that breeders should not neglect stamina, has been pleased with the progress of the steadily maturing Jadalee. Plenty of ante-post money has gone on Brian Meehan’s Red Rocks, runner-up in the Great Voltigeur and the choice of Richard Hughes, who could have ridden Championship Point. There will be a weather watch before Red Rocks takes his chance. His jockey sums up his chance as: “If he stays, he wins, it’s as simple as that.”
With the strike rate down lately for Noseda’s runners I don’t think Sixties Icon is a fair price at 5-4 and Red Rocks has that stamina point to prove. So for me it is Jadalee.
The Investor writes: You can see why purists purr over Sixties Icon’s purple pedigree. By dual English and Irish Derby winner Galileo and out of Oaks winner Love Divine, Sixties Icon has equal measures of class and stamina. However, even with three year-olds, it is better to focus on what they have achieved on the racecourse than speculate on their potential.
Sixties Icon’s form does not stack up against that of Red Rocks, who has finished runner-up in three Group One races on the spin. Sixties Icon was behind Red Rocks in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. Red Rocks then finished a close second to Rail Link in the Grand Prix de Paris and some judges view Rail Link as a live Arc prospect.
The 7/1 available on Red Rocks earlier in the week was a steal, despite some stamina doubts on his dam’s side.
His prospects have improved with every day of fine weather and, though his price reflects that, Red Rocks is still decent value.
In Ireland, the Champion Stakes pits two wonder fillies – Ouija Board and Alexander Goldrun – against each other again. They fought out the most thrilling duel of the season up the straight at Goodwood in the Nassau Stakes, with Ouija Board just prevailing.
Irish Derby winner Dylan Thomas represents the Classic generation. Ouija Board should shade it again, provided she has recovered from her exertions.
Back at York in the Sportsman Newspaper Champagne Stakes, Barry Hills’s Thousand Words may have the turn of foot to get the better of Aidan O’Brien’s raider Flying Eagle.
2:35 York Thousand Words (win)
3:45 York Red Rocks (win)
3:55 Leopardstown Ouija Board (win)