First things first. It’s Leger Saturday and this year’s contest looks a decent renewal in comparison to other years.
But, let’s be honest about this. Should the William Hill St Leger really be known as a Classic race anymore? In your heart of hearts, if you are a racing fan, you know the answer is no.
Firstly, the very best horses are aimed at the biggest races and given the way the European racing calendar is put together, those horses are far more likely to head to places like York or across to Ireland, or aimed at Champions Day. The best of the best will go to Europe’s biggest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Perhaps the Breeders’ Cup in America might be on the agenda. The St Leger just isn’t in that elite group of races.
Secondly, horses are not being bred to run over a mile and six-and-a-half furlongs. Speed is more valued in modern day racing, so the pool of horses that have the stamina for a St Leger is depleted.
There is a debate to allow geldings to run in the St Leger, maybe even opening it up to older horses like the Irish St Leger. I’m not sure this would be the right approach. I think there should be more incentive across the season to encourage owners to breed horses for stamina.
If there was better quality prize money for staying races and a more comprehensive programme, then perhaps it could encourage people to breed horses that are built for stamina as well as speed.
Having said all this, I am quite looking forward to this year’s race.
Capri won the Irish Derby beating Cracksman (who has since gone on to record two very good wins) and English Derby winner Wings of Eagles. It was a good performance and the assessor had little choice but to bump his official rating up. He is 4lb ahead of his rivals in the St Leger. Some will take that as fact and lump on. He might win, because he has stamina in abundance and is clearly a good horse, but the betting suggests he is unlikely to have it all his own way.
Stradivarius has long been aimed at this race, but the softer ground conditions may not be ideal. He’s clearly got stamina, but with Frankie Dettori on Coronet, the market has taken a stronger view to her claims. She’s a nice filly and I think the longer trip will suit.
Defoe has been in fine form, stepping up from handicap company to Listed and Group 3 wins. He’s worth a crack at this, but I’m unconvinced he should be the same price as Capri or Crystal Ocean.
It’s Sir Michael Stoute’s runner that gets my vote. Crystal Ocean is lightly raced and they have campaigned him very cleverly. He’ll like the soft ground too. He improved massively last time at Goodwood, when winning the Gordon Stakes and if he takes another step forward, which I think he can do, I’ll take him to win the St Leger.
Another good race on the Doncaster card is the Champagne Stakes.
A handful of these have claims. Dream Today looked like he might be a nice sort when winning at York.
Mendelssohn is interesting purely on the fact you don’t often find a horse trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore at those sort of odds (about 12/1). Unless there is a plunge, I wouldn’t be too keen.
Hey Gaman has the most experience and that can often pay dividends at Doncaster, so he would be the each-way shout. Red Mist was just behind him in a Listed race at Newbury, but that was only his second start and he is entitled to improve past Hey Gaman here.
Mythical Magic might be favourite, but he deserves to be. He has the best form after winning both starts to date, including a Listed win in France. Charlie Appleby has a good record in this race, training the winner of two of the last four victors (Outstrip in 2013 and Emotionless in 2015), so it is Mythical Magic for me.