Donn's Articles » Irish Field St Leger

Irish Field St Leger

Disciples of happenstance who follow racing are in clover these days. The Chinese Year of the Ox, and John Oxx is dominant. The theme continued yesterday at The Curragh. Seven days on from the coronation of Sea The Stars, equine superstar, the Currabeg trainer’s Alandi was last man standing in a gruelling Irish Field St Leger.

Different attributes were required yesterday at The Curragh to the ones that were displayed at Leopardstown eight days ago. It was a blinding turn of pace that carried Sea The Stars to victory in the Irish Champion Stakes last weekend, but it was courage and resolution and stamina that enabled Alandi wrest the lead from the Godolphin pace-setter Schiaparelli and then withstand the surprisingly potent challenge of the filly Clowance.

You wouldn’t have thought it, looking out over The Curragh plains yesterday, resplendent in the Indian summer sunshine, but ground conditions were tough. They were calling it heavy last Monday, and the wind and sunshine that dominated the weather charts all week left the terrain yesterday testing and energy-sapping, and Alandi loves testing and energy-sapping. It’s all he does. The son of Galileo was a possible for the Doncaster Cup on Friday, but ground conditions on Town Moor were considered too fast, and the decision to contest the Leger yesterday a couple of hundred yards from his box proved to be most astute.

Schiaparelli, the mount of Frenchman Olivier Peslier, deputising for Italian man Frankie Dettori, who stayed at Doncaster to ride Kite Wood in the English St Leger, bounced out of the gate and set out to make all. The institution that is Yeats, hero of four Ascot Gold Cups and winner of this race in 2007, tracked him through the early stages of the race, but even before they had turned into the home straight, it was obvious that the eight-year-old was in trouble, the energy-sapping ground getting the better of him.

The Godolphin horse was still coasting along in front as they left the three-furlong pole behind them, as Alandi emerged from the pack to give chase under pressure from Michael Kinane and apparently facing an uphill battle. However, Peslier began to get a little lower in the saddle as the moved inside the final quarter-mile, and Schiaparelli wasn’t going any further clear. Quickly it became apparent that the gauge was nearing the red zone on the leader as Alandi was just getting going on his outside. By the time they reached the furlong pole, it was obvious that the Aga Khan’s colt had the leader cooked, but Roger Charlton’s filly Clowance, who hadn’t been seen in public since she finished fourth in last year’s Epsom Oaks, looked a big danger on the outside. But it would have taken a fair effort to get past Alandi at that stage, and the colt surged on to land the spoils by a half a length, with a tired Schiaparelli five lengths back in third.

John Oxx wasn’t at The Curragh, he was busy supervising Mourayan’s tilt at the English St Leger, but Michael Kinane was thankful that he had decided to go to The Curragh instead.

“It was a difficult decision,” he said. “But once the ground was fast at Doncaster, and once it was on the easy side here, I was always going to come here to ride Alandi. The fast pace that Schiaparelli set helped me. I was off the bridle most of the way. But all my fellow does is gallop. It’s great to win it, to win a Classic, it’s great for the Aga Khan, he puts so much into the game.”

“It was a masterful ride from Mick,” said Pat Downes, manager of the Aga Khan Stud Farms in Ireland. “He might go for the Prix du Cadran now on Arc de Triomphe weekend. We’ll see how he comes out of this race, but we’ll have a think about it. He will be a Cup horse next year.”

On a day that was as much about celebrating the life and achievements of the late and legendary Vincent O’Brien as it was about racing, the great trainer’s widow Jacqueline talked about the esteem in which Vincent had always held the Irish National Stakes, and about how good a stepping stone it was for a young horse to the following season’s Classics. It was fitting, then, that the inaugural running of the Ladbrokes-sponsored event as the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes should be won by a genuine Classic contender in Kingsfort.

This was just the second run of the Kevin Prendergast-trained colt’s life. He made quite an impression in his first, when he won a maiden over the same course and distance as yesterday’s race on Derby weekend, so much so that he was allowed go off at no better than 9/4 for yesterday’s Group 1 contest.

The Ballydoyle pair Air Chief Marshal and Beethoven took them along through the early stages, but Kingsfort moved up nicely on the outside under Declan McDonogh, hit the front inside the final furlong, and had enough in reserve to withstand the late lunge of the Jim Bolger-trained colt Chabal. It was a second Group 1 win for Prendergast and McDonogh in two weeks, coming hot on the heels of Termagant’s win in the Moyglare Stud Stakes over the same course and distance.

“Life has been good to me over the last few weeks,” said the trainer afterwards. “We wanted to give the horse a break after his maiden win, but he got a bit of a virus then, so he ended up giving himself a longer break than we had intended. This race has been the plan from a long way out, but ideally we would have got another run into him beforehand. He did it well though.”

Prendergast confirmed that Kingsfort would not run again this season.

“He is a long lanky colt,” he said, “who should be even better next season. The filly won’t run this season either. If we don’t run them again, it means that we can dream away all winter.”

In another victory for happenstance on Vincent O’Brien day, it was appropriate that the opening contest, the five-furlong handicap, should be won by Irish Heartbeat, trained by David Myerscough, one of Vincent’s 17 grandchildren.

The big wheel of life just keeps on turning.

© The Sunday Times, 12th September 2009