JOHN Gosden believes favourite Excess Knowledge can overcome his relative inexperience and provide the champion trainer with a fifth victory in the £600,000 Ladbrokes St Leger – the world’s oldest Classic.
Speaking ahead of the 237th running of Doncaster’s premier race that will attract up to 30,000 spectators to Town Moor, Gosden – whose doughty Camborne landed yesterday’s Ladbrokes Mallard Stakes – is unperturbed that his flagbearer has only prevailed in one of five starts to date.
He says the Prince Khalid Abdullah-owned Excess Knowledge – who will run in the green, white and pink colours that were carried with such distinction by Frankel – showed plenty of promise when an unlucky second to Cap O’Rushes, one of a possible 10 rivals today, in the Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.
“When he ran a nice race in the Gordon Stakes it was the next logical step,” said Gosden, whose first St Leger success came with Shantou in 1996 before winning three of the last six renewals with Lucarno, Arctic Cosmos and Masked Marvel.
“He was making a nice run down the outside in the Gordon Stakes and there was a horse wandering around in front of him every time we made a move. I like the way he finished the race; there was no pace and it wasn’t a proper test.
“Bred the way he is, the trip should be within his compass.”
Gosden, whose formative years were guided by one-time Hambleton trainer Sir Noel Murless and then the incomparable Vincent O’Brien in Ireland, specifically targets the one and three quarter mile St Leger each year and often resists the temptation to run possible contenders in the early season Classics.
It makes today’s wide-open race even more fascinating as slowly maturing horses like Excess Knowledge, the likely favourite, take on rivals with Classic form like Ralph Beckett’s Talent who will bid to become the first filly in 21 years to complete the Oaks and St Leger double. Her jockey Jim Crowley started his career with Yorkshire’s Grand National-winning team of Sue and Harvey Smith.
As a result of Abdullah appointing James Doyle – victorious in yesterday’s finale on Zain Eagle – as his retained rider, the biggest threat to Excess Knowledge could come from Gosden’s stable jockey William Buick, 25, who is now free to ride Libertarian.
Previously trained at Leyburn by Karl and Elaine Burke, the York Dante winner and fast finishing Epsom Derby second is now owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, who also saddle the aforementioned Cap O’Rushes and Secret Number.
The one question mark is the horse’s form – he has not raced since being totally outclassed and outpaced in the Irish Derby in June.
However, Buick, the winner of more Grade One races than any other British-based jockey since 2010 when he won the first of his two St Legers on Gosden’s Arctic Cosmos, believes the rain-softened ground at Doncaster will play to Libertarian’s strengths.
Like the Burkes, the Northern Racing College graduate believed the colt’s finishing burst in the Derby had the hallmarks of a St Leger winner and he can be assured of popular support from the Yorkshire racing public – Ladbrokes reported significant support for Libertarian yesterday once Buick’s booking had been confirmed.
“If you think the average rating of a Leger winner is 111, he’s already 117, so he’s good enough to win,” said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford.
“He was very disappointing in the Irish Derby. The ground was too fast and I can’t help thinking maybe his exertions in the early part of the season took their toll.
“He doesn’t show anything in a morning, but we know on his Derby second and his Dante win that he’s top-notch. If he’s back to that form he can win, but I can’t say I’m convinced.”
The big doubt remains Epsom third Galileo Rock who was second in the Irish Derby. His County Tipperary-based trainer David Wachman was due to walk the track at 5.30am before deciding whether to fly the horse over from the Emerald Isle.
More rain was due to fall last night on ground described as ‘good to soft’ and this has to count against Galileo Rock, who holds an entry in tomorrow’s Irish St Leger.
Meanwhile Aidan O’Brien relies upon Leading Light and Foundry to compensate the Ballydoyle team for Camelot’s failure to land the Triple Crown 12 months ago.
Like so many of today’s runners, both have questions to answer. No horse in recent times has won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and then the St Leger, the task awaiting Leading Light, while Foundry’s run in York’s Great Voltigeur Stakes last month was just his second career start.
Even though the trainer’s son Joseph rides Leading Light, O’Brien has been more bullish about Foundry, whose rider Ryan Moore partnered the durable Times Up to a second successive win in the Speedy Services Doncaster Cup yesterday.
Only the 10th horse in history to win more than one Doncaster Cup, Moore’s tactical astuteness will be of benefit to Foundry when the field turn into the punishing five furlong home straight where the St Leger will be won and lost.
“We were delighted with his run at York. It was his first run of the season and he was running for experience,” said O’Brien.
“You would hope that the extra trip at Doncaster will be within his compass. He is a big, long-striding, good-moving horse.”