Published 16:08 11/9
Every horse has a distance beyond which it ceases to be fully effective, though it can take an awful long time to get to the bottom of it with some.
In flat racing in Britain, the 20% increase in distance between the Derby and the St Leger is one that finds out plenty. It is not just the distance itself, but also the effect it has on the entire tempo of a race earlier on.
Watch every race of the Pertemps St Leger Festival 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Wednesday 9th to Saturday 12th September.
My research shows that the last three St Leger winners have shared one unique characteristic: namely, that they strode slowly (below 2.17 strides/second) for about two-thirds of their Doncaster victories, whereas out-and-out stayers switch off too much and non-stayers switch off too little.
That may or may not prove relevant for the Pertemps-sponsored final classic on Town Moor on Saturday, but I am placing some store by it.
Not all St Legers are true tests, but most are, and this year’s seems more likely than not to be. Turning things into a test of stamina seems the best way – perhaps the only way – for Subjectivist(15-length winner of the March Stakes in the mud at Goodwood last time), Santaigo (already a winner at around this trip) and probably two or three others to come out on top.
And a test of stamina threatens to count against some others, notably Pyledriver, who has the best form on offer but who sometimes goes freely and whose “cruise mode” has been only at 25% so far. He steps into the unknown – that is, to a trip beyond 12f – now.
Hukum has improved in leaps and bounds, from a debut defeat to a Kempton win in which he really showed off his impressive stride, to a Royal Ascot handicap success in which he somehow went off at 12/1, and most recently to a decisive defeat of Max Vega and some smart older horses in a slowly run Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury.
Hukum probably needs to improve again on the form of that Newbury win, but not by as much as he has improved with every start to this point.
There is a slight doubt about his effectiveness now the ground is turning quite fast (judged on times since the first day), but the surface was by no means slow on the day he won at Royal Ascot.
Hukum is also close to being favourite, so is not a gift. But I would have him shorter and possibly even favourite. Galileo Chrome and Berkshire Rocco are two who could improve faced with a good test, but they still have it to do with the selection.
Win, lose or draw, there is only one St Leger, and you would do well not to miss it at 3:35 on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Racing.
Truth be told, I don’t fancy many other bets among the bigger races on Saturday. I put up Soldier’s Minute (win) and Arecibo (each way) in the bet365 Portland Handicap in my Timeform preview earlier in the week but do not see the need to double down on them.
The other appealing investment at Doncaster is ONE MASTER in the bet365 Park Stakes at 3:00. You know exactly what you are going to get with the William Haggas-trained mare: give her a well-run 7f on most types of going and some luck in running and she is one of the best about.
She should have most of those ingredients – the luck cannot be guaranteed, even in an 8-runner race – and will need to be one of the best about given the presence of Limato (another well-run 7f specialist) and Wichita in particular.
The One Master who won the Foret and came second in the British Champions Sprint last autumn should have the edge in this, and the fact that she has not quite got to that level this campaign has been down to circumstance. She still managed to do well to win the Oak Tree Stakes at Goodwood a couple of starts back.
The bet365 Champagne Stakesat 1:50 could easily unearth a real star, as it did with Too Darn Hot a couple of years back, but whether it will be Chindit (whose form has worked out exceptionally well), Albasheer (who ran some late explosive sectionals when winning here on his only start) or Mujbar (very useful time when winning by a street at Newmarket on his latest appearance), or even something else, is not clear. Watch and learn.
Across the Irish Sea, there is a fascinating race for the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown at 4:10. The opposition to Ghaiyyath – the best active horse in the world according to the official handicappers, and I agree with them this time – has slightly faded away, but it still includes Japan (unimpressive at the end of his last race, behind Enable at Ascot), the ultra-reliable Magical (who won this 12 months ago) and Sottsass.
The last-named is my idea of the one to give Ghaiyyath most to do, as he is a seriously classy individual who has had few chances at a strongly run 10f on decent ground, but he is no longer the double-figured price he was and the strongly run is less likely than it once seemed. If Ghaiyyath is on his “A” game, as he has been all season to date, then he should still prevail.
Simon's Best Bets (scale 1-5 points):
3:00 DONCASTER – BET365 PARK STAKES
1 pt win ONE MASTER (7-2 Coral, 100-30 bet365, Betfred, BetVictor, Ladbrokes, William Hill)
3:35 DONCASTER – PERTEMPS ST LEGER STAKES
1 pt win HUKUM (7-2 general)