St Leger is Classic test
There is a tendency to belittle the St Leger, the oldest, longest and toughest of the five English Classics, as an irrelevance in the modern arena.
Its distance, a gruelling extended mile and three-quarters, is nowadays seen as way beyond the optimum for a potential stallion to advertise his merits, a kiss of death in the bloodstock industry that drives the sport on the track.
That last is undoubtedly true — the last St Leger hero to become champion sire was Nijinsky, who completed his Triple Crown at Doncaster, and the only recent winner who is not currently doing duty as a jumps sire is Conduit, who subsequently netted three top-level wins over shorter before starting his second career in Japan.
But the St Leger, a Group One contest with a prize fund of more than £500,000, is still a race the professionals want on their CV and, importantly, provides a compelling spectacle as equine fortitude is tested the length of the demanding Doncaster straight.
The top yards love to win it — the Godolphin team, responsible for this year's favourite, Rewilding, will be seeking their sixth success in the Ladbrokes-sponsored 234th running and the Ballydoyle operation, with the second market choice Midas Touch and Joshua Tree due to line up, their fourth.
And if these horses are merely very, very good, rather than brilliant, so what? True brilliance is a rare commodity and the best on Saturday week may prove in coming seasons to be exactly the sort of durable top-level performers the sport now demands. Conduit, for instance, went on to take a King George and two Breeders' Cup Turfs, Scorpion a Coronation Cup, Mutafaweq a Deutschland-Preis, a Coronation Cup and a Canadian International.
The St Leger's position in the calendar historically made it the seasonal decider for top horses but its status in the modern era has been eroded not only by the condemnation by the breeding industry of the once-prized virtue of stamina, but also by a plethora of alternative valuable autumn targets.
As such it is no longer the automatic destination for a Derby winner. The last to face the Town Moor challenge was Reference Point, who completed the Classic double in 1987. But the race will still be graced this time with solid Epsom form in the shape of the Derby third Rewilding and Snow Fairy, winner of the Oaks.
Snow Fairy is third favourite, as short as 5-1, and yesterday came the clearest indication yet from trainer Ed Dunlop that Cristina Patino's home-bred would tackle her third Classic.
“The weather will ultimately decide for us,” he said. “But they are not talking about any rain up there for at least the next week and so there is a good chance that Snow Fairy will be at Doncaster.”
Meanwhile, Kieren Fallon gave up his final two rides at Folkestone yesterday because of flu.