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By Anil Mukhi | 14 Sep 2018 |

Anil Mukhi

A superb weekend is in store for fans of the International Turf. In Great Britain, the fifth and final Classic for members of the 2015 crop comes up for decision on Saturday, September 15th, with the running of the Gr.1 William Hill St. Leger at Doncaster over the gruelling trip of 1 mile, 6 furlongs and 115 yards (2,921 metres). The oldest of that country's Classics has drawn 12 three-year-olds, including one supplementary entrant, for the event scheduled at 3:35 p.m. local (8:05 p.m. in India).

Exactly three hours later, over in Ireland, Dublin’s Leopardstown racetrack will see the Gr.1 QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes being run over 10 furlongs. Also on that card is the Gr.1 Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes, which should fall to perhaps the best three-year old in training, Alpha Centauri (by Mastercraftsman). Finally, ParisLongchamp in France is the venue of a trio of Arc trials on Sunday, September 16th, namely the Gr.1 Prix Vermeille, Gr.2 Prix Foy and Gr.2 Prix Niel.

The St. Leger is a race won by favourites more frequently than the other classics, with the best-backed runners in the race having scored more often than not in the past quarter of a century. At the same time, in the last decade alone, rank outsiders like Mastery (14 to 1), Encke (25 to 1) and Harbour Law (22 to 1) have triumphed, so followers of longshots are not without hope.

Interestingly, the public choice is Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s unbeaten homebred La Ti Dar (by Dubawi), who until recently wasn’t even certain to run as she had an alternate engagement in the Gr.1 Prix Vermeille in France. Tuned to perfection by John Gosden at Clarehaven Stables in Newmarket, the mount of Frankie Dettori was a runaway winner of the Listed Galtres Stakes at York last time out and has been steadily contracting in price down to 15 to 8. Except for the fact that she has never raced at Group 1 level, La Ti Dar ticks all the boxes and ought to be right there at the finish.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien has been enduring a torrid time over the last couple of months due to a “bug” in the Ballydoyle yard in Ireland. Recent results have shown that the stable is over its problems and so one can certainly fancy at least one of his five wards here. The best backed, by virtue of having Ryan Moore in the saddle, is the Gr.1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris hero Kew Gardens (by Galileo). The 9 to 4 chance was last seen when third in York's Gr.2 Great Voltigeur Stakes, a proven lead-up event for winners of the St. Leger.

O’Brien also fields listed winner Southern France (by Galileo), quoted at 14 to 1 with Seamie Heffernan up, followed by the 33 to 1 The Pentagon (by Galileo), the 66 to 1 Nelson (by Frankel) and the 100 to 1 Zabriskie (by Frankel). All except the last-named race for the Coolmore partners – Zabriskie is a Niarchos-owned homebred.

Dubai’s Al Maktoum family have several chances to add this prize to their collection of Classic trophies. Flying the Godolphin banner from Charlie Appleby’s barn are Old Persian (by Dubawi), at 8 to 1, and Loxley (by New Approach), at 11 to 1, partnered respectively by William Buick and James Doyle. The first-named runner, winner of the Gr.2 Great Voltigeur Stakes, has a fair chance while his stablemate should represent good value for “place” bet fans. Almost forgotten is the Investec Epsom Derby runner-up, Dee Ex Bee (by Farrh), schooled by England’s winningest trainer, Mark Johnston, and steered by Silvestre De Sousa, currently disputing the lead at the head of the Leading Jockeys Table in England. The hard working colt – who runs for Sheikh Mohammed’s son – has yet to score in 2018 and hence is available at 16 to 1.

Though her chance seems slim, one must mention Maid Up (by Mastercraftsman), if only for the fact that her connections have spent £50,000 just to secure an entry in the race. This spectacular vote of confidence has not been shared by the wagering market, which has her priced at 25 to 1.

With so many good class runners here, prediction is a tough task. Any of the three rival outfits, namely Watership Down Stud, Ballydoyle Stables and Godolphin, is the most likely destination of the £421,355 winner’s prize.

Three hours after the result of the St. Leger is in the records books, three older runners will try and give weight (6 pounds) to a quartet of three-year-olds in the €1,250,000 Gr.1 QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (10 fur.) at Leopardstown, where the going may be slightly on the soft side. For one reason or another, several potential top class runners are missing and these include Benbatl, Cracksman and Poet’s Word, which is rather disappointing.

As in the St. Leger, the runner with the most support is an inmate of John Gosden’s yard. This is Qatar Racing Ltd.’s Roaring Lion (by Kitten’s Joy), quoted at just short of evens. The grey has shown improvement at each of his five starts this season after a below-par opening effort back in April and has the in-form Oisin Murphy at the controls as has been the case all year long.

The colt comes up for the sixth time against his old rival, the Gr.1 QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior (by Deep Impact), to steer whom Ryan Moore is making an air-dash from Doncaster. Aidan O’Brien’s charge can be backed at 7 to 2. The rivalry between these two colts has been a feature of the last two seasons and one would have to say that at their best there is little between them in point of merit, with the score standing at 3 to 2 in favour of Roaring Lion.

Adding some spice to the mix is the Niarchos hope Study Of Man (by Deep Impact), winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) in June who disappointed trainer Pascal Bary and rider Stephane Pasquier with a below-par effort at Deauville last month. It’s possible that he needed the race and he has the class to bounce back, but in all likelihood he will find his fellow three-year-olds too good.

Her last three appearances have been most disappointing, but Rhododendron (by Galileo) has shown enough in the past to suggest she is not chasing shadows here. One has to interpret her last three stinkers as being either due to her (a) having trained off, or (b) the “bug” in the stables of her trainer, Aidan O’Brien. If the former, she has no chance but if it’s a case of the latter she might yet have a page to inscribe in the history of the turf. The trainer’s son, Donnacha, well clear in the Irish Leading Jockeys table, is her partner here. He’s been scoring at a phenomenal 28% strike rate!

On balance, it should be yet another straight fight between Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior. Heavy plungers should remember that the last three odds-on choices in this race all bit the dust!