We’re delighted to be teaming up with Matt Bisogno’s excellent www.geegeez.co.uk website which gives you the inside track on British and Irish racing. Daily tipping pieces, stat packs, Placepot picks, interactive racecards with Race Analysis Reports and form filters, a full news feed and much more are at your fingertips and it’s all completely free. Matt will look at the feature race for us each weekend and provide his thoughts on the best bets. This week it’s the final Classic of the season as the St Leger takes centre stage at Doncaster…
3.50 Doncaster – Ladbrokes St Leger Preview (1m 6f 132y, Group 1, 3yo, 11 runners)
The St Leger is the oldest – first run in 1776 – and longest – 408 yards shy of two miles – of the five British Classics. The race places an emphasis on stamina allied to class, and has enjoyed something of a mini-revival in recent years, with Camelot bidding for a famous Triple Crown last year.
He was foiled by Encke in that bid, at odds of 2/5, and favourites have had some problems in recent years, as have the highest rated entries. Indeed, all of Camelot, Rewilding, and Sea Moon were top rated and sent off favourite. All were beaten.
It looks a weak renewal this year on paper and, unless one of Galileo Rock, Libertarian or Talent wins, we’ll have one of the lowest rated winner for almost two decades.
But there may be a reason for that: this term, no fewer than four of the top six in the market are coming here off layoffs of eight weeks or more. Thus, they’ve had less chances to improve their official rating.
If that sounds like a silver lining, then here’s the cloud. Since Shantou in 1996, only Scorpion (2005) was able to win the St Leger having not run at either Glorious Goodwood or York’s Ebor meeting, both of which are run within six weeks of the St Leger.
In other words, Galileo Rock, Leading Light, Libertarian, and Talent are all bidding to buck a strong historical trend. This begs two questions:
Firstly, why have they failed to race through the summer? And secondly, is it possible they’ve improved markedly in the interim?
Both answers are probably related. After all, if a horse has been injured, he probably won’t have had a chance to improve his level of fitness or form. Conversely, if he’s been hard trained in an uninterrupted period, then perhaps he has improved.
My cautious nature leads me to assume the former, and to be prepared to be beaten by the latter. There are just so many glittering riches to compete for through July and August that it’s hard to ignore them all. Moreover, for many – though not all – trainers of top class horses, the St Leger remains something of an afterthought: a chance for redemption, perhaps, at the end of a slightly disappointing summer campaign.
The main contenders
The standout exception to this rule is John Gosden. Johnny G, as he’s known at geegeez, loves this race, and its alumni attests to that affection. In the last six years, Gosden’s horses have prevailed on three occasions: Lucarno in 2007, Arctic Cosmos in 2010, and Masked Marvel in 2011. His 10/1 aspirant, Michelangelo, was third last year.
This time he saddles Excess Knowledge, an unexposed type for whom distances seem the answer. This son of Monsun, out of a Dansili mare, is bred to stay; and he looked to be staying on past all of his rivals last time in the Gordon Stakes, a recognised trial for the St Leger.
Alas, traffic issues there meant he was an unlucky-looking head second to the re-opposing Cap O’Rushes. That one has since run disappointingly in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, the other main trial, at York.
Excess Knowledge figures to go off favourite on the day, and that’s no bad thing, as eight of the last sixteen St Legers were won by the market leader.
His primary market rival could be Galileo Rock, although David Wachman’s Epsom Derby third and Irish Derby second will only run if there’s no further significant rain. On the one hand, that seems curious for a horse that won his maiden on soft by seven lengths. On the other, he was then well beaten when stepping up to Group 2 on good to soft next time.
He’s not run on softer than good since, and that maiden romp hasn’t exactly worked out well, with just five winners from 57 subsequent runs.
The ground is highly unlikely to be good or faster come Saturday afternoon, with Friday’s going set at good to soft, and a good bit of rain expected over Friday night. As such, even if Galileo Rock runs, he has to be a doubt on the ground and, with the option of the Irish St Leger on Sunday, he’s likely to stay home. Not for this scribe either way, especially after that protracted break.
Ballydoyle’s Leading Light is the next in the market, and he’s unbeaten in three runs this year, and in his last four all told. But none of those have been in more elevated company than Group 3, and he has been off the track for 85 days.
The last horse to win the St Leger without running in a Group 1 or 2 race previously, was Millenary back in 2000, and he had won the Gordon Stakes, a key trial. Even in a potentially average year, that level of form shouldn’t be good enough.
His stablemate, Foundry, is a 33% bigger price at time of writing (6/1) and was second in the Great Voltigeur on just his second career start last time out. That run came after almost ten months off the track, and Foundry ought not to mind the ground whatever state it is in, having won his maiden by over five lengths on soft. He could be a player.
Libertarian may be an interesting dark horse. He was running on best of all to snatch second in the Derby, and then ran a clunker at the Curragh in the Irish version. That run was too bad to be true, and it was on the fastest ground he’d encountered, implying that perhaps we should ignore that effort.
“Forgive a horse one bad run” is the saying, especially if you can suggest a reason for it. If it was the ground, and he’s been able to recover and train through what is, granted, an extended time off the track in the context of recent Leger winners, then he has a chance.
That Derby second was preceded by a meritorious Dante win, where he hung all over the Knavesmire before cutting down Trading Leather and the rest. Trading Leather has franked the form with his Irish Derby win, as well as three subsequent strong placed efforts against older horses in Group 1’s.
One more element to add sheen to the chance of Libertarian is the fine record of Godolphin – who acquired him after his Derby second – in the St Leger. They’ve won the race five times since 1998, and twice in the last four years. Libertarian could be ‘the forgotten horse’, if such a thing exists.
Best of the rest
Of the rest, Talent won the Oaks and may appreciate a return to a softer surface than she encountered in the Irish equivalent. But she’s had her problems before and since that last run – and she was last of seven in that last run – so you take her wellbeing on trust. Not for me.
The other two prongs of the Godolphin trident are Cap O’Rushes and Secret Number, both of which have run well in one or both of the main trials: Cap won the Gordon Stakes; Secret Number ran a close third in the Great Voltigeur.
Great Hall looked a horse of huge promise when winning a fast ground staying handicap at Haydock that has worked out very well, but he missed his intended prep in the Melrose Stakes due to the going there. Given that it was similar to the likely going for the St Leger, and that he’s been off the track for 72 days, my initial hope for the Hall has waned somewhat.
However, he apparently worked pleasingly on good to soft the other day, so all may not be lost for my ante-post voucher. Looking at the final declarations, though, I’ll be picking elsewhere now that the day of the race is here.
Specifically, I think EXCESS KNOWLEDGE can add to John Gosden’s impressive recent record in the race, and give him a fifth win since Shantou started the ball rolling back in 1996.
The places are likely to be keenly contested, and I’d be most interested in the chances of Foundry and Libertarian, with Secret Number a possible if he can shake off his ‘unlucky’ tag on slightly softer ground.
1-2-3-4: Excess Knowledge, Libertarian, Foundry, Secret Number
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