Kevin Blake

    Leading racing writer Kevin Blake looks back on a memorable William Hill St Leger, which went the way of Irish Derby hero Capri for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore.
  • Monday 18 September 2017
  • Blog

Thrilling St Leger shows the old race has plenty of life yet

The St Leger may well be the world’s oldest Classic having been first run in 1776, but truth be told, for many years it was in decline. As the desires and demands of the bloodstock world gradually moved away from staying power and more so onto precocious speed, races such as the St Leger became more and more commercially unfashionable to the point where running a colt in it essentially stamped a “SLOW” brand across their forehead.

However, while the fashions of the bloodstock world have not changed to any great extent in the last decade, the St Leger has undoubtedly made a comeback. Perhaps it was Camelot’s brave attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky that pulled the race back from the brink of irrelevance, but regardless of what it was, the race has taken a notable upturn in recent years culminating in a thrilling and top-class renewal last Saturday.

Of course, the St Leger is never going to be the stallion-making race that all the best middle-distance colts aspire to, but this race was what the modern day St Leger should aspire to be. Strong-staying colts that were good enough to run well in the Derby and the Irish equivalent locking horns with strong-staying colts that weren’t quite forward enough to contest the earlier Classics and finding out which is the best. That is exactly what this year’s renewal was and what a contest it produced.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained CAPRI was the one representing the Classic form having beaten Cracksman in the Irish Derby. While he was stepping up in trip from a mile-and-a-half, every step he has ever taken on a racecourse has suggested that he was a dour stayer in the making and he was duly ridden as though his stamina was not even a remote cause for concern. While his draw in stall nine was not ideal, Ryan Moore was aggressive with him from the gate to get him forward as his three stablemates set out to make the race a true test. While it was unlikely to have been part of the plan for The Anvil to go quite as quickly as he did, as we have seen on countless occasions over the years, getting the fractions right in front on the big occasion isn’t always as straightforward as one might assume it is.

As it turned out, The Anvil went so quick as to be an irrelevance to the rest of the field, with Douglas Macarthur and Venice Beach ensuring that the remainder of the field were brought along at a solid pace. There was no hiding place, as there shouldn’t ever be in a Classic, and Capri was sent for home three furlongs out. He had to see off challengers on both sides on the way down the straight, but he responded gamely to pressure and saw them all off by a brave ½-length.

While it is unlikely that Ryan Moore would do a single thing differently if he had to ride the race again, one suspects James Doyle would give anything for another go on Stradivarius. In the heat of the moment, it is understandable why Doyle decided to go from being a length behind Capri to a length in front of him between the five-furlong pole and the four-furlong pole given that he must have been thinking that the gap that had appeared for him between the Ballydoyle leaders was unlikely to be left open for him for too long.

However, what that move did was not only use up valuable fuel, it also got his horse racing a long way from home. Crucially, while Stradivarius was making that move, Capri was slipstreaming his stablemate Douglas Macarthur conserving his run for later use. Fine margins are decided on decisions such as those and given that Stradivarius only went down by ½-length, one wonders what the result would have been had Doyle stayed put from the five-furlong pole and ridden for luck thereafter.

While Capri may have won the day on this occasion, a rematch with Stradivarius over a longer trip either this year or next seems very likely and that will be a contest to relish.

A footnote to proceedings on Saturday is that Capri’s victory means that the unstoppable Aidan O’Brien has trained the winner of eight of the 10 British and Irish Classics this year. The only blots came courtesy of the brilliant Enable in the Oaks and the Irish equivalent. Given that O’Brien trained the runner-up on both those occasions, it must be the closest any trainer ever come to achieving a Classic clean sweep across both Great Britain and Ireland in the same year.

Just as remarkably, the sire of seven of those eight O’Brien-trained Classic winners was Galileo and of the three Classics he didn't sire the winner of, he sired the runner-up in each of them. While much of the bloodstock-related chatter in the racing world has centred on Frankel in the last couple of years, Galileo is moving the bar of excellence to all-new heights each and every year. It is difficult to envisage another sire ever reaching the level of dominance that Galileo has established at the highest level of Flat racing in Europe.

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