Donn's Articles » Irish St Leger report

It was a day of St Leger shocks yesterday as, just over two hours after Camelot’s eclipse in the Ladbrokes St Leger at Doncaster, the Tommy Carmody-trained Royal Diamond got up in a thrilling finish under Niall McCullagh to spring a 16/1 surprise in the Gain Horse Feeds Irish St Leger at The Curragh.

Mention Tommy Carmody, and you think top class National Hunt jockey. You think Buck House and Galmoy and Gay Spartan and Silver Buck. Now you have to change your thinking: think Irish Classic-winning trainer. This was a first Irish Classic for Carmody as a trainer, as it was for McCullagh as a rider, although Carmody was beaten just a short head on Sassabunda in the Irish Oaks in 1977 as a rider. That’s going back almost as far as Nijinsky.

For Royal Diamond, it was a career-best. The six-year-old had run 24 times before yesterday, including three times over hurdles, but he has shaped like a hugely improved performer this season since joining Carmody’s operation. Never out of the first three in five runs for his current trainer, all in handicaps, he was probably a little unlucky not to win the Ebor at York on his most recent run, when he went down by just a neck to Willing Foe in a scrappy finish. Yesterday, same scrappy finish, but different result.

Fame And Glory and Jamie Spencer took the field along at no more than an ordinary pace in the early stages, with Royal Diamond three deep around the top turn and racing just a little more keenly than ideal. When Spencer asked Fame And Glory to stretch at the top of the home straight, it looked like he might have set up a race-winning lead. But the pack closed on the outside from the two-furlong marker, with the Aga Khan’s horse Massiyn taking it up deep inside the final furlong, before Royal Diamond lunged late and nabbed him right on the line, coming out best in a four-way thriller.

“I had an idea that Fame And Glory might go on,” said McCullagh, “but I thought that he might make it more of a test. My horse has gears, as we saw in the Ebor, so the fact that they didn’t go too quickly was in our favour. I always felt I was getting there, and I thought I hit the line well, but I wasn’t sure. Then they called the winner, number four. I couldn’t believe it. This means everything.

“I’m 43 years of age, and even getting a ride in a Classic with a chance is great. The fact that I’ve gone and won it, it’s the highlight of my career by far. I have had some dark days in my career, but I’m getting an awful lot of support from a lot of people now, and I am really grateful. I always said I’d ride until I was 50, so hopefully this will keep me going for another seven years.”

For Carmody, it was another peak in a meteoric training career that just keeps going higher and higher.

“This was always the plan for Royal Diamond,” he said. “It’s fabulous. This is much better than riding them. When you ride them, you come in, say your piece, and then you’re gone. When you train them, you are with them 24-7. But it’s a team effort, Ben Curtis rides out, and Niall, and of course, Johnny Murtagh. We have a great team. We have 17 horses, and Andrew Tinkler is a great man to train for.”

The defection of the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt Cristoforo Colombo from the other Group 1 race on the card, the Goffs Vincent O’Brien Stakes, robbed the race of much of its interest as a contest, but it was still difficult not to be impressed with the performance that favourite Dawn Approach put up in winning the race.

Racing in Godolphin blue for the first time, and completing a memorable day for Sheikh Mohammed’s operation, the Jim Bolger-trained colt travelled nicely behind the furious early pace that Flying The Flag set. Kevin Manning did have to get after him at the two-furlong pole but, from the point at which the colt began to pick up, the result was never in doubt, and he careered away to win, eased down, by almost five lengths.

The son of New Approach, who hadn’t run since he won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in mid-June, is now unbeaten in five runs. In emulating his sire – whom Bolger also trained to win this race in 2007 – he further strengthened his position at the top of the market for next year’s 2000 Guineas, with bookmakers quoting no better than 8/1 and as short as 4/1 about him for the first colts’ Classic of 2013.

“It’s always nice when a horse has been off for so long to get them back and to get the win,” said Bolger. “He will come on a little bit for the run, but he doesn’t need to. Hopefully he’ll go for the Dewhurst now. Hopefully we’ll get there. Whatever Sheikh Mohammed decides after that will be fine with me.”

Bolger’s record in the Dewhurst is outstanding, with four of the last six winners of the race having been sent forth from Glebe House. There is every chance that Dawn Approach could further enhance that record next month.

©  The Sunday Times, 16th September 2012