TRAINER Roger Varian reports Ladbrokes St Leger favourite Kingston Hill to be in the form of his life ahead of the final Classic of the 2014 Flat season.
Varian’s grounds for optimism are two-fold – the fact that 14mm of rain fell on Doncaster over the weekend to soften the course significantly and an upbeat assessment from big-race jockey Andrea Atzeni about the well-being of the Epsom Derby runner-up.
The trainer was speaking after 15 horses were declared for Saturday’s showpiece on Town Moor, including Kingston Hill, who came to prominence when winning the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last October.
However, Varian’s stable star has only competed once since Epsom – Kingston Hill was fourth to Mukhadram in the Coral-Eclipse – and was withdrawn from the Great Voltigeur at York on the afternoon of the race because of fast going on Knavesmire.
“The rain they had at Doncaster on Saturday was very useful for us,” said Varian.
“There is very little chance of any more this week, but this is September, not July. Tracks don’t get baked by hot sun at this time of year, so we should not have the same problems.”
Varian reaffirmed that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on October 5 may come into the reckoning if Kingston Hill runs with honour in the world’s oldest Classic.
“It’s no concern to me that he hasn’t run for a while and I’d be keen on the Arc if all goes well at Doncaster,” he added.
“I know it’s never been done, winning the Leger and the Arc in the same season, but he hasn’t had a busy summer and Andrea got off him the other day and said he’d never felt better.
“First things first, he has to win at Doncaster.
“But he has an amazing constitution and could go on to a target three weeks later.”
As for Kingston Hill’s rivals, many connections are hoping to secure the services of top jockey Ryan Moore for the big race.
They include Middleham trainer Mark Johnston, who is due to saddle Royal Ascot winner Hartnell, the progressive Alex My Boy and Somewhat who was third to Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Snow Sky in the Gordon Stakes – the pre-eminent St Leger trial at the Glorious Goodwood meeting.
“I think at the moment, if the ground is good, all three are planning to run,” said Johnston’s wife Deirdre, who indicated that stable jockey Joe Fanning will be aboard Hartnell.
“Hartnell goes on any ground, he’d prefer it slightly softer, and that’s the same for Alex My Boy. If it’s faster than good, he won’t run, and if it’s good to soft, or softer, then Somewhat wouldn’t run. At the moment, Joe has the pick and I think he’ll side with Hartnell.”
She said Moore is in connection for one of the rides, but this is contingent on the in-demand jockey not being claimed to ride Sir Michael Stoute’s Kings Fete or Granddukeoftuscany for Aidan O’Brien. This is on the assumption that James Doyle, Abdullah’s retained rider, stays loyal to Snow Sky, who was second in the aforementioned Great Voltigeur.
Meanwhile, champion trainer-elect John Gosden expects to be triple-handed with Forever Now, Romsdal and Marzocco as he seeks a fifth win in the race.
Riding plans are fluid, with stable jockey William Buick having first call.
Estidhkaar and Richard Pankhurst are two of the star names among 15 juveniles still in contention for the At The Races Champagne Stakes at Doncaster on Saturday.
The Richard Hannon-trained Estidhkaar has not raced since landing the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting.
Richard Pankhurst has not been seen since streaking clear in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot for John Gosden and has subsequently been snapped up by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.