First run in 1776, the St Leger is the oldest and indeed longest of the Classic races and represents a tough challenge for even the most hardy horses at the end of a long season.
However, the set-up for this year makes it a unique challenge and I think that the role of the trainer takes on an even greater significance. Getting the relevant experience into an immature three-year-old in half the time normally available, but still keeping them fresh for the big day requires the utmost skill.
As always, Aidan O’Brien will have his say in a Classic he has landed six times in 19 years and the Ballydoyle trainer is represented by three of the 12 final declared runners.
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Santiago is naturally his number one hope having won the Irish Derby, but in truth he has little or nothing in hand of several rivals here. On the plus side, although two miles looked a tad too far for him in the Goodwood Cup, it is worth remembering that he was beaten by one of the greatest stayers of the modern era – Stradivarius.
The first named has gone from strength to strength this season culminating in an impressive success in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York. It is testament to the brilliance and record of Aidan O’Brien that, had this giant colt been trained at Ballydoyle, he would almost certainly have been made something like a 2/1 favourite at best following that Knavesmire success.
However, 7/1 was readily available after the race and it took at least 48 hours before the son of Harbour Watch was heavily supported. At the time of writing he sat at the top of the betting pile on 11/4. On my private ratings I have him 2.5lbs clear of Santiago with further improvement to come, so purely on my figures I reckon he should be nearer 7/4 than 11/4.
At York, he galloped all over his rivals from some way out and when he was asked for his effort inside the quarter-mile pole he ran all over the place not because he was tiring, but purely due to greenness. There is plenty more to come from this real unit of a racehorse and, although he should stay this extended trip, if he were mine I would have aimed him at the Arc next month. On the first Sunday of October he is more likely to get the give in the ground which is not necessarily imperative for him, but clearly preferable and of course the shorter distance would be a plus in my mind as well.
But with a fair-weather forecast the ground is almost certain to race on the fast side of good come Saturday, which would favour several of his rivals.
Hukum has made significant strides on each of his four career runs, culminating in an impressive success in the Geoffrey Freer, although it has to be said he beat a very average field that day – albeit with something to spare.
But the conundrum horse has to be ENGLISH KING. After he hosed up in the Lingfield Derby Trial, simply nothing went his way at Epsom but yet he was still a huge eye-catcher in the closing stages as his mammoth stride came into play down the final stretch.
Both a moderately run race and the contours of Goodwood simply didn’t suit him and he is well worth another chance, especially as his trainer has always maintained that the son of Camelot must have top of the ground to continue to progress so a double-figure price almost certainly underplays his chance here.
Of the bigger-priced runners we haven’t seen the best of Galileo Chrome, but on my figures, he needs to improve 15lbs to win this so at a bigger price Mohican Heights could be the most likely source of an upset.
David Simcock’s charge looked every inch a stayer when a steadily-closing fourth to Pyledriver in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, before blowing out in the Derby.
He has a really good record when fresh so his absence since Epsom is no problem and he could readily outrun his odds by some way if back on song.
Paul Jacobs’ St Leger verdict – September 12
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