St Leger: Girls power ahead
In racing circles September has traditionally been known as the mares' month, appropriately enough given that the St Leger is generally where the Classic battle of the sexes is joined.
The epithet, though, actually had its origins in an ancient end-of-harvest ritual involving a corn sheaf fashioned into the shape of a female horse before it was adopted as a nod to the progress on the track often made by the real things as their hormonal cycles settle towards the end of the year.
There is a word for women who strive to be the equal of men — unambitious — but even the most ardent feminists must concede that in one field, that of unassisted athletic endeavour, the male of the species is more deadly than the female.
Men are indeed the faster, higher and stronger. And so, comparing the very best with the very best, are colts. It is possible to reel off the names of more than nearly 100 males rated better than that paragon among mares and fillies, Pretty Polly, and only half-a-dozen other females could be considered for a place in an all-time top 150.
Of course, that is not to say that on a given day under given conditions a filly cannot beat colts, and Saturday at Doncaster may be a case in point, when Oaks heroine Snow Fairy is scheduled to take on the boys in the St Leger. In 233 runnings of the oldest Classic, 41 fillies have triumphed, most recently User Friendly 18 years ago.
The list includes the first winner, Allabaculia, Pretty Polly herself, in 1904, and two other distaff greats, Sceptre and Sun Chariot.
Fillies are eligible to run in the 2,000 Guineas and Derby but they rarely take on males as three-year-olds until the autumn, when they are more mature physically and mentally.
Snow Fairy's improvement has been one of the revelations of the season and her progress may not yet be over. The bay daughter of the high-class miler Intikhab looked very much the part as she strode out powerfully on the Newmarket gallops yesterday morning under Ryan Moore, her final serious spin before the big day.
The St Leger is not only the oldest Classic, but also the longest and toughest, an extended mile and three-quarters with a run-in over an uncompromising half-mile straight.
Snow Fairy is currently second market choice behind warm favourite Rewilding, the Derby third, but though she has won on soft ground, she will not be asked to venture into Saturday's uncharted distance territory under testing conditions.
Rain on Monday night means the St Leger meeting starts today on good to soft ground — it is to be hoped the weather improves to allow our heroine to take part on Saturday.