The emphasis may all be on speed horses these days, with breeders interested only in horses that struggle to get a yard more than ten furlongs without the aid of a horsebox. But I remain a devotee of the St Leger, the last and longest of the English Classics run at Doncaster over a mile and six furlongs. In this year’s contest it took only one look at the favourite Hurricane Lane, five furlongs out, to know that the money was as good as in your pocket. Jockey William Buick had him in the perfect rhythm in midfield and was clearly unworried when rival Rossa Ryan, on the handsome Mojo Star, struck for home three furlongs out to test the stamina of the chasing pack. A furlong later, Buick eased Hurricane Run up to the leader and won authoritatively by two and a quarter lengths.
Trainer Charlie Appleby had not a moment of anxiety, saying afterwards that watching had been an unusually enjoyable experience. ‘It was only a matter of time to ask him to click through the gears. For a horse who stays a mile and six he’s got a gear change and that’s what makes him stand out.’ Said Buick: ‘He’s a jockey’s dream. You can put him anywhere in the race and he relaxes, which is obviously vital over the distance.’ The where-next question, though, is complicated by the fact that occupying another box in Appleby’s Godolphin yard is one Adayar, the winner of this year’s Derby and well supported for racing’s richest autumn attraction, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on the first Sunday in October.
Which is really the better? True, at Epsom Hurricane Lane was only third (behind Mojo Star) when Adayar had his big day. But in the hurly-burly up and down of the Epsom gradients Hurricane Lane lost both front shoes. Since then he has journeyed to France to pick up the French Derby (the Grand Prix de Paris) and to the Curragh to win the Irish equivalent impressively enough to have been able to do so wearing galoshes. Adayar has burnished his CV with an equally stunning victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, the first horse since Galileo to win that and the Derby in the same season.
We will have to wait to see what decision Sheikh Mohammed takes about running Godolphin’s two stars against each other in Paris but even though he had to miss his planned prep race in France at the weekend, I would feel easier, if I owned the pair, about sending Adayar to Paris for the Arc than Hurricane Lane. Great horses such as Ribot (twice), Sea Bird, Dancing Brave and Sea The Stars have won the Arc, but Nijinsky, every bit as good, went down narrowly to Sassafras in the 1970 race. I believe he lost it because his connections chose to run him in that year’s St Leger, in which he became the last horse to bring off the Triple Crown of the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger. No St Leger winner has ever won the Arc in the same season.
When Mill Reef won the Arc in 1971 by three lengths from Pistol Packer, he was the first English-trained horse since Migoli, 23 years earlier, to capture the French prize. Trainer Ian Balding and owner Paul Mellon, convinced that it was an either/or, never gave a thought to running Mill Reef in the St Leger. Mill Reef’s trainer, incidentally, did everything he could to ease his travel, even persuading the US Air Force authorities to let him fly out from the US base at Greenham, just ten minutes from his Kingsclere yard. The local commander afterwards brandished a 10lb bundle of documentation and said: ‘Don’t ever ask me to do that again.’ Now, thanks to those wonderful people who gave us Brexit, trainers are having to cope with paper mountains on that scale almost every foreign trip.
The Arc used to be advertised on Paris hoardings headed by the slogan: ‘Ce n’est pas une course, c’est un monument’, and this year’s contest certainly looks like being one of the most memorable races ever. As well as the Godolphin pair, we could see lining up Aidan O’Brien’s remarkable Snowfall, winner of the Oaks at Epsom by 16 lengths, and the multi-stakes winner Mishriff. But if I had to put down my money today it would go on Dermot Weld’s filly Tarnawa. Fillies and mares have had a great record in recent years. Both Treve and Enable won the Arc twice and to me Tarnawa’s run behind the horse of the year, St Mark’s Basilica, at Leopardstown last weekend over a shorter distance was an eyecatcher. Ryan Moore, on the winner, drove Tarnawa eight wide strips of mown grass to the right, carrying her off her racing line, and had to survive a stewards’ inquiry to keep the race. Her trainer Dermot Weld is a truly patient man who has aimed at the Arc all season, and he doesn’t miss many targets.