Established in 1776, Britain’s oldest classic returns this Saturday, as a small, but select field battles it out on Town Moor.
Defoe can score again
Roger Varian won the St Leger in 2014 with Kingston Hill, and the Newmarket trainer will be hoping his highly progressive colt, Defoe, can land him his second.
Defoe has won all four of his races this season and has taken every step up in class, within his stride.
His latest success in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury was his first in Group company, and it was the manner of his victory that impressed me.
Racing against older horses, he had little trouble in quickening away and handling the softer conditions, which are anticipated once again this weekend.
There will be no concerns over the distance, and he has been placed masterfully by his trainer. He has continued to attract plenty of support in the betting, as he tackles his first Group One contest.
Aidan O’Brien has won the St Leger on four previous occasions and is likely to be three-handed, with Capri, Venice Beach and Douglas Macarthur.
Capri finished sixth in the Derby at Epsom, before stepping up considerably by winning the Irish version from Cracksman and Wings Of Eagles.
That is the outstanding piece of form, in context of Saturday’s big race.
And if he repeats it, then he will be right there at the finish.
Capri won’t mind the give in the ground either, as he has relished the softer conditions in the past, and appears to be the leading contender from Ballydoyle.
The Coolmore operation is also likely to run both Venice Beach and Douglas Macarthur.
The former disappointed in the Derby, but did finish a highly encouraging third in the Grand Prix De Paris at Saint-Cloud, and then, literally, chased shadows behind Cracksman in York’s, Great Voltigeur.
He does tend to find a few too good but has no concerns on the stamina front.
The latter ran better than his seventh place implied in the Derby, as he cut out much of the running before getting tired. He then ran a close-up fifth to Capri in the Irish Derby, however, his fourth behind Cracksman at York leaves him with six-and-a-half lengths to find with a stable companion, Venice Beach, and he’s had some hard races this campaign too.
Sir Michael Stoute won Britain’s oldest classic in 2008 with Conduit, and he will be hoping that the lightly raced Crystal Ocean can create a splash.
I remember witnessing his smooth Nottingham maiden win back in April, and like many others anticipated substantial improvement.
His third in the Dante at York underlined that, and then a third at Royal Ascot, was followed by a smooth victory in Goodwood’s Gordon Stakes, when he comfortably disposed of the useful Khalidi, by three-and-a-half lengths.
That was on soft ground too, so he has to be considered shortlist material for Saturday’s big race.
The yard have made no secret, that whatever he does at three, he will make into an even better four-year-old.
He is very much respected in an open race.
Brian Meehan saddles Raheen House, who warmed up with a win in the Bahrain Trophy, at Newmarket’s July meeting.
He has the stamp of a stayer, with a touch of class, and can boast being one of just two horses to have finished in front of Enable this season. There still looks to be some juice in his price, and he’s been aimed at this race all season.
John Gosden has also won this race four times, and saddles two this time around. Stradivarius has won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, and the Goodwood Cup over two
Stradivarius has won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, and the Goodwood Cup over two miles so very much has the stamina to burn.
The yard thrive with these staying types, and he’s already out-fought Big Orange this term, so wouldn’t mind eyeballing a rival if the finish did get tight.
The one filly in the race is Coronet.
She, too, won at Royal Ascot and then finished a highly respectable second to Enable in the Yorkshire Oaks. She has a touch of class, and you only have to go back two years for the last filly to have won this race when Simple Verse won at 8/1.
Andrew Balding is not averse to the odd shock, and he may well run Count Octave, who is not be underestimated at a big price. He pushed Stradivarius all the way at Royal Ascot and ran a respectable second at Goodwood last time. He will be fine over this trip, and shouldn’t be far away.
Rekindling has competed in many of the top staying races this season and is yet another who could hit the frame. Trained by Aidan’s son, Joseph O’Brien, he’s in very capable hands but does look a bit exposed compared to many of the others, and for that reason, I shall look elsewhere.
It’s a race full of depth, despite the likely small field. Cases can be made for many, but I like the profile of the improver, Defoe. Every time he is asked a question, he is finding the answer, and I believe he is ready for this classic assignment.