Idaho all the rage for St Leger; Nemoralia preps for American trip

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September 6th, 2016

A bonanza of top-class international racing is on the horizon, with the upcoming Irish Champions Weekend and Sunday’s Arc trials at Chantilly, but the first of Europe’s fall highlights is this week’s St Leger Festival at Doncaster.

Opening Wednesday, the four-day meeting culminates in the world’s oldest classic, the St Leger (G1), which was first contested in 1776.

As of Monday, trainer Aidan O’Brien is responsible for seven of the 15 remaining eligible for the 1 3/4-mile, 132-yard classic – chief among them red-hot favorite Idaho. The maestro of Ballydoyle plans to send “three or four,” depending upon how the week goes for his septet of possibles.

Idaho has already placed in two classics, finishing third to Harzand in the Derby (G1) at Epsom and coming much closer when a half-length second in the Irish Derby (G1). The full brother to Highland Reel warmed up by beating stablemate Housesofparliament in the August 17 Great Voltigeur (G2) at York, consolidating his position as the heavy antepost favorite. St Leger sponsor Ladbrokes has listed Idaho at 10-11.

“I think Idaho is the same category as my four previous winners,” O’Brien said. “He has a very high level of form over 10 and 12 furlongs and is an uncomplicated horse who relaxes well.”

Housesofparliament had captured an earlier prep, the Bahrain Trophy (G3) during Newmarket’s July Festival. Sword Fighter is a proven stayer with scores in the two-mile Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the 1 3/4-mile Curragh Cup (G2) only nine days later. Last seen checking in a creditable fifth versus older horses in the two-mile Goodwood Cup (G2), the O’Brien pupil is entitled to rebound back in his own age group. The rest of O’Brien’s entries have more to prove – The Major General, who missed narrowly in the Gordon (G3) before trailing in the Great Voltigeur; Melrose third Unicorn; Triplicate; and Kellstorm.

John Gosden has trained as many Leger winners as O’Brien (four), and aims to break the deadlock with Muntahaa. Sheikh Hamdan’s colorbearer has been progressing all summer, following up a third in the King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot with a front-running success in the Chester Stakes.

“This horse never raced at two and was quite babyish,” Gosden said. “He was caught out by greenness in the King Edward VII Stakes but he finished well. He learnt a lot at Chester and will get the trip - I just don't know if he will get the trip quick enough.

“He is still a frame of a horse and his ears would touch the lights here.”

Red Verdon, a troubled sixth at Epsom, was subsequently fourth in the Irish Derby and second in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) for Ed Dunlop. He’s since been under the weather with the bug going around Newmarket, and Dunlop said it was “pretty much a last-minute decision” to give him the Leger go-ahead.

“Red Verdon wasn't healthy enough to run in the Voltigeur and we gave him break after three relatively quick races,” Dunlop said.

“I hope he is still improving - it has not been an ideal preparation but he is a horse who has very much improved throughout the season and, without the hiccup, we would have been very confident in him running a huge race on Saturday.”

Richard Hannon Jr.’s Ventura Storm has won his past two, the Glasgow and the Prix de Reux (G3), both receiving form boosts. Glasgow runner-up Ormito has since finished second to the elder Kings Fete in the Geoffrey Freer (G3), and Reux runner-up Moonshiner just landed Sunday’s Prix de Lutece (G3). Harbour Law and Harrison appear more as place chances, while The Tartan Spartan is ambitiously spotted. Twilight Payment isn’t planning to run, according to trainer Jim Bolger.

Final declarations, and post positions, will be announced Thursday.

With a generally pleasing forecast all week, the ground at Doncaster promises to be good.

Here are the most notable races to watch over the course of the St Leger Festival (all times EDT):


10 a.m. (EDT) – The five-furlong Scarbrough Stakes could be the spot for Muthmir to regain the winning thread after an underachieving season.

10:35 a.m. – The “Leger Legends” race features 14 retired jockeys, including Richard Hughes and Joseph O’Brien, who’ll ride to benefit Northern Racing College and the Injured Jockeys Fund's Jack Berry House.


9:30 a.m. (EDT) – The May Hill (G2) for two-year-old fillies over a mile pits several from the Prestige (G3), including victorious Kilmah and closing fourth Rich Legacy, against Gosden’s maiden winner Blending.

10:05 a.m. – The Park Hill (G2), dubbed the “fillies’ St Leger” (but open to older distaffers), gets a real boost with 2015 St Leger heroine Simple Verse lining up. Lillie Langtry (G3) victress California and Galtres winner Abingdon enter in smart form.

10:40 a.m. – The Weatherbys Hamilton Insurance isn’t a black-type race, but the £300,000 juvenile sprint is ever-competitive (especially with a weight spread dictated by the sire’s median price for his yearlings at auction last year).


8:55 a.m. (EDT) – The Sceptre (G3) is a seven-furlong affair for fillies and mares whose leading candidates, Nemoralia and Lumiere, may opt to face males one day later in the Park (G2). La Rioja would be intriguing on the step up from six for Henry Candy, while South African celebrity Same Jurisdiction eyes her British bow for Ed Dunlop. This also looks the right trip for Cheveley Park’s homebred Spangled.

9:30 a.m. – The Flying Childers (G2) attracts the speediest of juveniles to dash five furlongs, with Yalta, Intelligence Cross, Tis Marvellous, The Last Lion, Prince of Lir, and Afandem in the mix.

10:05 a.m. – The Mallard, a handicap over the Leger course and distance, is worth watching for emerging stayers.

10:40 a.m. – The historic Doncaster Cup (G2) celebrates its 250th anniversary, making it the “oldest race that still takes place under the Rules of Racing,” as the media guide phrases it. Eligibles for the 2 1/4-mile prize include Mizzou, Sheikhzayedroad, Quest for More, Trip to Paris, Clever Cookie, Wicklow Brave, and Clondaw Warrior. The last four are also engaged in Sunday’s Irish St Leger (G1). Simple Verse is on the list but was declared for Thursday’s Park Hill.

11:15 a.m. – The Flying Scotsman offers juveniles an easier seven-furlong option than Saturday’s Champagne (G2), and several are cross-entered. Of those whose only Doncaster option is the Flying Scotsman, unbeaten Frankel colt Senator is an eye-catching entry. Frankel won this race in its old incarnation as a conditions event before it became a listed stakes.


9 a.m. (EDT) – The Champagne itself is competing with Sunday’s Vincent O’Brien National (G1) at the Curragh, making for several cross-entries. It could mark professional juvenile Mehmas’ first try at seven furlongs, but his main aim is the September 24 Middle Park (G1), and Hannon has a couple of other arrows in Eqtiraan and Majeste. O’Brien has three eligible at this stage, led by Capri, and Godolphin can call upon a phalanx including Boynton and Thunder Snow. William Haggas has Lockheed as well as lucrative York maiden scorer Rivet. Taamol, a debut winner at Sandown for Sir Michael Stoute, is among those with the Flying Scotsman option.

9:35 a.m. – The Portland is a five-furlong, 140-yard handicap that can unearth progressive sprinters. 

10:10 a.m. – The seven-furlong Park is expected to serve as Nemoralia’s stepping stone to her American fall campaign, focusing on the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup. The aforementioned Lumiere could likewise take on older males the likes of Dutch Connection, Toormore, and Richard Pankhurst. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hero Hit It a Bomb, third recently in his Desmond (G3) comeback, has an alternative closer to home on Irish Champions Weekend.

10:45 a.m. – The St Leger.

Scenic photo courtesy of Doncaster Racecourse via Twitter