While the undoubted highlight of the St Leger Festival at Doncaster is the world’s oldest classic itself – due off at 3:35 on Saturday – the four-day meeting also comes at a pivotal stage in the two-year-old campaign.
Gone, or almost gone, are the days of summer during which precocious juveniles pushed themselves to the fore. While some of those individuals are still around, they are now being joined by longer-term prospects, running over longer trips.
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.
There are three Group 2s for youngsters across the meeting, as well as some strong supporting listed races and maidens, plus some competitive nurseries.
First up of those Group 2s is the bet365 May Hill Stakes, a mile race for fillies at 2:10 on Thursday, won by future multiple Group 1 winner Laurens in 2017 and by several other very useful types over the years. It went to Powerful Breeze 12 months ago, with the heavily backed Cloak of Spirits (subsequently second in the 1000 Guineas) only sixth.
Cloak of Spirits went to Doncaster with one run, and one impressive win at Ascot, to her name, and Zabeel Queen – same colours but different trainer – has almost identical credentials having won that same race in July.
Zabeel Queen beat Snow Lantern in a decent time compared to other 7f races on the card and with some smart late sectionals (35.41s for final 3f) which mark her down as a 99-rated filly already with plenty more to come. The form behind is somewhat mixed, but the race has already thrown up winners.
Similarly promising (rated 100 on sectionals) and similarly untapped is Indigo Girl, who won her only start, at Yarmouth, in a respectable overall time but with some really fast splits, including 22.00s flat for 3f out to 1f out. Both she and Zabeel Queen are bred to be even more potent at 10f/12f next year.
They look better at this stage than the promising types Ubuntu (96, still a maiden but third in a substandard Group 3 at the Curragh last time), Earth Strike (88, race set up for her somewhat when coming from behind to win at Leopardstown) and Lilac Road (91, able to set steady fractions when winning on very firm at this course and distance).
Proven form is more obviously represented by Star of Emaraaty (102) and Dubai Fountain (98), who were first and second in a rather messy Sweet Solera Stakes. It will be a shade disappointing if one or more of the less-exposed types fails to leapfrog them on the day.
The Flying Childers Stakes over 5f at 2:40 on Friday caters for those speedier, more precocious types, mentioned earlier. The last two winners have been among the best this century, A’Ali last year going onto win a Group 2 this summer and Soldier’s Call 12 months before following up with a third in the Abbaye and eventually a second to Battaash in a Nunthorpe.
Tough acts to follow, then, but we look to have another superior contest on the cards. Sacred (110) is the one to beat on form, especially in receipt of a 3 lb fillies’ allowance, following seconds in fast-time races for the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and the Lowther Stakes at York. In both she went below 1/5 in running, and the sixth furlong might have been her undoing against Miss Amulet in the latter.
She is the likeliest winner and may represent value even as the ante-post favourite, but she does have a couple of 107-rated colts to deal with in Ventura Tormenta and The Lir Jet, first and second in the Prix Robert Papin at Chantilly in July, in which they were both treading water near the end.
The former has run badly on his only start since, but The Lir Jet should be fine with returning to the trip of his win in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Frenetic (104) is all speed, and a contender with her sex allowance, but has less scope than her rivals after five starts. Steel Bull (105) and Ben Macdui (102) were one-two in a rather ordinary Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood but will surely show themselves better than their subsequent defeats at further/on softer respectively.
Saturday’s bet365 Champagne Stakes features some really promising types, but the standard-setter is Chindit (110), who beat three good next-time winners in a listed race at Ascot in July, running late splits fast enough to suggest he was two to three lengths better than the result.
Chindit’s rating would be good enough to win a slightly substandard Champagne, but not a renewal as good as those won by Threat and Too Darn Hot in the last two years.
Mujbar won by a remarkable seven lengths and five at Newmarket recently, and in the fastest of three 7f times on the card, though sectionals from video show that he ran efficiently in doing so.
One Rulerran faster than Etonian managed in winning a Group 3 on the same card when taking a red-hot maiden at Sandown, while Albasheer put in some searing late splits when pulverising his rivals in a novice at this course and distance in July.
Half the 16 entries are from Ireland, with St Mark’s Basilica (102) and Duke of Mantua (97) – the first and third in a maiden at the Curragh in August, with the latter getting off the mark at Gowran last week – the pick of Aidan O’Brien’s and Thunder Moon (104) the pick of Joseph’s.
Thunder Moon went into some notebooks when “winning” a Barrier Trial at Dundalk and into a whole lot more when landing a maiden at the Curragh by three and three quarter lengths on his only start.
Several of those entered in the Champagne also figure in the bet365 Flying Scotsman Stakes over the same 7f distance on Friday. The race has been won by the likes of Molatham, Sangarius, Tip Two Win and Frankel (no less, though before it acquired listed status), and there are some proven types as well as those highly promising types engaged.
The runner-up to One Ruler in that Sandown maiden, Maximal (99), is in the Flying Scotsman, and the third,Latest Generation (99), has been declared for the meeting’s opener on Wednesday. A son of Frankel and the Coronation Stakes winner Rizeena, Latest Generation is good enough already to win races.
The fifth from the Sandown race, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Tawaareq (82), is an interesting entry in the 7f maiden that wraps up the Friday card.
The three nurseries at the meeting are likely to take some unpicking, but it is a decent bet that the Ralph Beckett-trained filly Meu Amor (78) will figure prominently in one of them. A £300,000 Breeze-Up buy, she should prove quite a bit better than the bare form of her Pontefract win in a solid time suggests.