Connections deliver their Classic verdicts as Lah Ti Dar sets out to steal show
William Hill St Leger Stakes | Group 1 | 1m6½f | 3yo colts and fillies | ITV/ATR
Ten years have passed since Frankie Dettori planted a big kiss on the cheek of Sir Michael Stoute to mark what remains the superstar jockey's most recent success in the St Leger on Conduit.
Should Lah Ti Dar triumph on Saturday, Andrew Lloyd Webber and John Gosden at least know what to expect.
The kiss was, in part, an acknowledgement Stoute was ending his hoodoo in the final British Classic. Gosden and Dettori, conversely, are old hands at winning the race, with nine Town Moor triumphs between them. They know what a St Leger champion looks like. Many people feel the latest winner will look exactly like Lah Ti Dar.
Many people also felt Lah Ti Dar was destined to win the Oaks. Lord Lloyd-Webber's homebred daughter of Dubawi was a general 2-1 favourite when ruled out of the contest in late May owing to an unsatisfactory blood test.
She remained on the sidelines until romping to a ten-length Listed success over 1m4f at York last month, after which Gosden said: "Frankie got off and said Lah Ti Dar has got to run in the St Leger. He said she could have kept going another three furlongs, but we'll see."
While Dettori was adamant, the owners also considered Sunday's Prix Vermeille, but the likelihood of easier ground at Doncaster swayed them towards a belated Classic tilt for a filly who is now St Leger favourite and quoted at between 8-1 and 20-1 for the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Providing the latest assessment, Gosden said: "She missed a great deal of the season as she was sick, but she comes here fresh. She won in good style at York and she's pleased us since.
"I'm realistic, as she’s had only three races, but the track and long straight will suit her."
Lloyd-Webber's racing manager Simon Marsh said: "You never know if they will or won't stay. She's going into the unknown and only the race will tell us if we've made the correct decision. Hopefully she'll stay and run a really big race."
Returned with a marvellous win at York and has the potential to leave her current form behind
Has not won anything better than a Listed race, this is only her fourth outing, and she is unproven over the Leger trip
Gardens leads O'Brien challenge
Kew Gardens heads Aidan O'Brien's William Hill St Leger team as the Ballydoyle master bids for a third British Classic this season and a sixth victory in the Doncaster showpiece.
Ryan Moore's mount, the winner of the Queen's Vase and Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris, ran a satisfactory trial for the St Leger when a staying-on third in the Great Voltigeur Stakes under a 5lb penalty.
O'Brien, who first won the event with Milan in 2001 and most recently with Capri a year ago, reports Kew Gardens in "very good form" for this test.
O'Brien said: "Everything has gone well with Kew Gardens since York, where we were very happy with his run. He's shown he stays well."
Southern France, winner of two his five starts and runner-up to Kew Gardens in the Queen's Vase, is the least experienced of the five Ballydoyle runners and open to plenty of improvement.
"He's a fine, big colt and ran a nice race in the Irish St Leger Trial last month," said O'Brien. "We've been happy with him since and we think he's come forward well. He'll appreciate the trip."
The Pentagon started the year as one of his stable's leading Derby contenders but has failed to win in five attempts this season and now tries a new trip after finishing fifth in the Great Voltigeur on his most recent start.
O'Brien said: "The Pentagon ran well in the Irish Derby and we think he's progressed nicely since his run at York."
Completing the Ballydoyle quintet are Nelson, who has acted as a pacemaker for Kew Gardens three times this year, and Zabriskie, well beaten on his two starts since finishing third in the Dante Stakes.
O'Brien added: "Nelson has been working well and slow ground would suit him. We think Zabriskie has come forward since his last run."
No doubts about his stamina, progressive and every chance he'll improve significantly from his pleasing run at York
Facing a few serious rivals, so will need a career-best to win
Appleby bids for more Classic glory
This has been a season of wonderful renaissance for Godolphin and it could get even better as Old Persian and Loxley provide Charlie Appleby with two serious chances.
It was Appleby and William Buick who in June supplied Sheikh Mohammed's global superpower with a first Derby success in the Godolphin blue.
The hero of that hour is sidelined, but there is such strength in depth at Masar's home that Buick faced a St Leger choice, ultimately selecting King Edward VII and Great Voltigeur Stakes winner Old Persian, who was ridden by James Doyle when defeating Melbourne Cup-bound stable companion Cross Counter at York.
That means Doyle on this occasion partners Loxley, who has scored twice in France, including most recently in the Grand Prix de Deauville, since coming up just short in the Newmarket July festival's St Leger trial.
Appleby said: "I think William chose Old Persian because he is a battle-hardened horse who has been ultra-consistent. The only blip came in the Irish Derby, but we would hold our hands up and say the race wasn't run as we'd expected, so we weren't in the right position.
"He came back after a break and did really well to beat Cross Counter giving him 3lb. When Cross Counter came to him he had every right to give up the lead but James said he wasn't for stopping.
"Loxley has been lightly raced and is progressive. We came away from the Bahrain Trophy not sure he saw out the trip, but he's a stronger individual now and has been faultless in his last two starts."
Appleby added: "We're going into the race with two smart horses with two different profiles.
"I expect Old Persian will be up there near the front, as we're very confident he'll get the trip, whereas Loxley will be ridden more patiently and will hopefully be doing his best work late."
Won the definitive Leger trial at York and sets the standard on form
Disappointed upped in class for the Irish Derby and untested at the trip
Date with Destiny for Dee Ex Bee
Since the moment Dee Ex Bee ran so splendidly to take second behind Masar in the Derby, Mark Johnston has been adamant the St Leger would be the colt's long-term target. Dee Ex Bee has reached the race and now has the chance to shine.
A step up in trip, combined with the long Doncaster home straight, should play to the strengths of Silvestre de Sousa's mount, but this year's only Yorkshire representative has been below his Epsom level in three subsequent outings, including when behind Kew Gardens in the Grand Prix de Paris.
Johnston, the winner of more races than any trainer in British racing history, said: "This has been the target, certainly since the Derby, and we're here now, with the conditions all looking to be perfect.
"It has been a long season and I hope he can run to his Epsom form. He's become more and more laid back at home. It takes at least a mile and a half plus pressure to bring out the best in him, so we'll only find out what level he's at when he's put to the test on the racecourse."
Middleham Park seek compensation
Having come so close to winning the St Leger two years ago, Middleham Park Racing and Richard Hannon are back at Doncaster trying to avenge a close defeat.
Ventura Storm battled his way into the lead in 2016 only to be collared by Harbour Law.
The syndication organisation is this time represented by Raymond Tusk, who in July took the same Hamilton Listed race netted by Ventura Storm on his way to the Leger, while he most recently chased home Melbourne Cup candidate Hamada in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes.
Hannon, who has booked Doncaster specialist Andrea Atzeni, said: "Andrea is certainly the right man to have on board at Doncaster. It's a stronger race than I thought it would be, but he represents massive value at 20-1."
Hornby hoping to hit the heights
Maid Up and Rob Hornby have made rapid progress this year. Now they seek to show how rapid by trying to win the St Leger.
In May, the Andrew Balding-trained filly was beaten off 67 in a Chepstow handicap but she takes her steepest rise in class, having won the Group 3 March Stakes last time.
She will be partnered by a jockey who has been in the saddle for every one of her races this year and who last week took part in his first Group 1. Now he enters Classic waters for the first time.
Balding said: "She's run well throughout this season and improved with each race. We know she stays well and she won nicely last time. The one query would be that this comes at the end of a long season, while I also hope they don't get much rain.
"However, if she runs her race I'm sure she'll be in the mix for a place."
Dascombe insists outsider is worth place
Proschema attempts to jump from admirable handicap defeat to Classic glory in one leap for trainer Tom Dascombe and jockey Richard Kingscote.
On his latest outing the 66-1 shot took third in York's Melrose Handicap but ran to a Racing Post Rating of 108 to show himself worthy of a place in the St Leger line-up.
"I know he's a big outsider, but it's not impossible he could run a very decent race," said Dascombe. "He's incredibly genuine and you can be sure he'll do his best. He's also improved with every run and he'll love the track, trip and ground."
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