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St Leger preview

The news on Friday afternoon that the John Gosden-trained Mr Singh had scoped poorly and would miss next Saturday’s Ladbrokes St Leger left the race with an unusual shape: there are just 10 viable entries left in the race now, and Aidan O’Brien is responsible for six of them.

The final British Classic of the year is important to O’Brien.  He has won the race four times, with Milan, Brian Boru, Scorpion and Leading Light, and when the Triple Crown was on with Camelot in 2012 – the Guineas and the Derby already in the bag – the champion trainer had no hesitation in allowing the Montjeu colt take his chance in the race.

Camelot went agonisingly close too, 42 years after the last Triple Crown winner Nijinsky.  He came up three parts of a length short, but it was a valiant attempt.

With five of the O’Brien sextet occupying five of the top six places in the ante post market for this year’s Leger, it follows that, if you can decipher the Ballydoyle pecking order, you are well on your way to solving the entire St Leger puzzle.

Therein lies the problem, however.  You can make a cogent case for at least five of the six.  Order Of St George was promoted to the top of the market after he ran out an impressive winner of the Group 3 Irish St Leger Trial at The Curragh two weeks ago.

The Galileo colt travelled well through that race, and he cleared away impressively from older rivals.  Runner-up that day, seven and a half lengths behind the winner, was Sea Moon, the 2011 St Leger third who was making his debut for John Oxx, while back in third, another eight and a half lengths behind, was Ascot Gold Cup runner-up Kingfisher.  It is solid staying form.

The worry for Order Of St George would be very fast ground.  The ground was soft on The Curragh two weeks ago, as it was at Leopardstowhen when he won his maiden there in August last year.  That said, the ground was good to firm when Order Of St George won Her Majesty’s Plate at Down Royal six weeks ago.  It’s not that he doesn’t go on fast ground, it’s just that he is probably more effective in more testing conditions.

He has a score to settle with his stable companion Bondi Beach.  When the pair of them met in the Curragh Cup on Irish Derby weekend at the end of June, it was Bondi Beach who came out on top.  The stable companions had that race between them from a fair way out, but it was the lesser-fancied Bondi Beach who got home by a short head, the two three-year-olds coming clear of high-class older stayers like Forgotten Rules and Panama Hat.

Bondi Beach has run once since then.  The form book says that he finished second, a half a length behind Storm The Stars, in the Great Votigeur Stakes at York last month, but that doesn’t tell the full story.  The winner drifted markedly to his left through the final furlong of the race, carrying Bondi Beach across the track with him.  The stewards on the day deemed that the result should be allowed to stand, but it is impossible to know if the best horse in the race on the day finished first or finished second.

There is a score to be settled there too, because Storm The Stars will head up the home defence on Saturday.  William Haggas’ horse finished third in the Epsom Derby, second in the Irish Derby and third in the Grand Prix de Paris before he gained his Group race win in the Great Voltigeur, traditionally one of the best pointers to the Leger.

Beaten a head by Golden Horn at the back end of last season in a Nottingham maiden that was more significant than we appreciated at the time, the Sea The Stars colt is a talented and tough individual. He will be racing for the ninth time this season on Saturday, he has danced just about every dance this term, but he has been expertly managed by Haggas and there is no sign of a deterioration in his form.

Fields Of Athenry, Giovanni Canaletto, Outspoken and Hobart complete the Ballydoyle Six, while Medrano would have a chance if it happened to come up soft and the Mikel Delzangles-trained Vengeur Masque could bid to become the first French-trained horse since Toulon in 1991 to win the oldest Classic.  The Richard Hannon-trained Proposed could take his chance, and there is the possibility that Ralph Beckett’s filly Simple Verse will be supplemented.

With Sumbal and Mr Singh both ruled out now, we are looking at the prospect of the smallest St Leger field since Scorpion beat just five rivals on heavy ground in 2005, but it is no less intriguing a contest for that.  Scores to be settled all over the place.

© The Sunday Times, 6th September 2015