Defoe left with just one question to answer as colt shortens for Leger
The heavy rain that has rendered the Doncaster going soft, heavy in places, has not pleased all of those connected with the 13 five-day acceptors for Saturday's William Hill St Leger, but it was welcomed by Roger Varian, who believes Defoe has the qualities that could see him follow in the footsteps of his 2014 winner Kingston Hill.
So, evidently, do plenty of punters, with the progressive colt extremely popular on Monday, with bet365 cutting him to 4-1 joint second favourite (from 6), and 5-1 the best price on offer. The Leger sponsors went 9-2 (from 6).
Coronet and Venice Beach – two others who would not be inconvenienced by cut in the ground – were other market springers, while Coronet’s John Gosden-trained stablemate Stradivarius was easy to back and out to 6-1 (from 9-2).
Sheikh Obaid's Defoe has not stopped improving. Unbeaten in four runs this season culminating in the Geoffrey Freer at Newbury last month, he started off winning a handicap at the same track off 88, so arrives at Doncaster by a very different path to Kingston Hill, who had won the Racing Post Trophy and been second in the Derby.
Varian, speaking from Keeneland, said: “Our horse is very comfortable under soft conditions and we’d have been more concerned if we’d had an Indian summer and it came up good to firm.
“Testing ground should suit our guy and I’ve been very happy with him since Newbury. I love how he’s come up through the ranks and he’s been very straightforward to train all year.
“He’s come through the back door and isn’t like Kingston Hill, who was a Group 1-winning two-year-old. But I think his form is solid and he’s got a lot of qualities that will put him in a good place on Saturday.”
He added: “He’s got good stamina, he’s got a great mind and he can quicken – he’s not just a galloper. We’ll find out on the day whether he is good enough, but I think that’s really the only question. Everything else ought to be in his favour.”
Weather woe for Stoute
While the 16mm of rain that fell overnight on Sunday is no worry for Defoe, it was not welcomed by Sir Michael Stoute, whose Gordon Stakes winner Crystal Ocean is the sponsor's 3-1 favourite ahead of Irish Derby winner Capri, who heads what looks likely to be a three-pronged attack from Aidan O'Brien, who has left six in the race.
Stoute's assistant James Horton said: "He's a lovely horse out of a great family and has done very little wrong.
"He's come on an awful lot and did it very smoothly at Goodwood, where we were expecting a big run as he’d been working very well into it, having been beaten by two very good horses at Ascot when things didn't go to plan.
"We’d like good ground though. He wouldn't want it too soft. He's a frame of a horse, we think will be better next year. He won on soft at Goodwood but, stepping up to a better class of opposition, the better the ground the better."
Four-time St Leger winner John Gosden is due to be represented by Goodwood Cup winner Stradivarius and Ribblesdale winner Coronet, and his wife Rachel Hood said at a media event in London on Monday: "The plan is for both to run, and hopefully they will both run well.
“We know Stradivarius will definitely stay, and we’re not worried he won't have the speed, but we don't want it to rain any more.
“Coronet will stay, and it won't matter to her if it rains some more. We’re not really worried about the ground for her. She's a beautiful filly, quite forward, and she's very ready for the race."
Another Classic for Capri?
O'Brien, bidding for a fifth St Leger and speaking in a video interview, confirmed his Irish Derby winner Capri "in very good form – so far so good" and explained that he sidestepped the Great Voltigeur owing to the 5lb penalty and his scope not being 100 per cent.
He is not concerned about the longer trip, as Capri "was not relenting at the line [at the Curragh] and is a strong traveller who finds plenty and keeps going".
Voltigeur runner-up Venice Beach, he said, "is a horse we always thought would stay further than a mile and a half, and the York race was to bring him on for the Leger, rather than the be all and end all, so he’ll have come forward."
Douglas Macarthur, according to Coolmore spokesman Kevin Buckley, is likely to complete the O'Brien team. He also used the Voltigeur as a stepping stone and is expected to be suited by the longer distance, though Buckley said "he probably wouldn’t want it too soft".
'You only get one chance, so why not?'
Andrew Balding, who admitted he pulled out a bit stiff in the morning after completing Sunday's Great North Run in two hours and four minutes, relies on Count Octave, who was second to Stradivarius in the Queen's Vase and has always been targeted at the St Leger.
He described Count Octave as "next year's project" but added: "His form is very solid and he's in great nick. You get only one chance, so why not?"
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