Nothing ordinary about the oldest Classic
Our man Will Hayler, who lapped up the atmosphere at Doncaster, celebrates the St Leger and its winner Leading Light.
- Related Content
For one reason or another, I'm pretty favourably predisposed towards Doncaster and the St Leger, so I can't pretend it's the biggest surprise ever that I'm about to come out in defence of the race.
The notion that this year's race was 'an ordinary St Leger' will no doubt have gathered extra weight for some given that the winner, Leading Light, was in some ways an ordinary kind of winner.
Bred, owned, trained and ridden along lines fairly familiar to the British Classic scene (let's face it, had Mystic Meg claimed last year that a Coolmore-owned, Joseph O'Brien-ridden son of Montjeu would win the St Leger, we'd all have asked for our money back), his Queen's Vase success at Royal Ascot marked him out as a tough, genuine stayer and an obvious candidate for the St Leger months before the race.
He was, if anything, the equine personification of this year's race. Dependable, dogged and very good, without perhaps lacking the film star sparkle that Camelot brought into the contest 12 months ago.
But though we might all wish for Christmas every day, we must sometimes accept that races will simply be quite good. You can't have above-average without having average.
And to pigeonhole him as simply being an ordinary winner of an ordinary race does no justice to the distance he suddenly put between himself and his rivals once Joseph O'Brien asked for maximum effort about two and a half furlongs out.
Galileo Rock may not ever quite have headed him at that stage, but he certainly looked as if he was going to give the winner a race, only to find himself suddenly two and a half lengths in arrears and unable match the winner's gallop a furlong later.
Likewise Talent certainly might have finished closer but for meeting trouble in running (although surely she faced a far greater obstacle in the slow early pace that left her racing too freely early on and then poorly positioned when the gallop did eventually quicken), but was she really any closer to the winner at the finish than, say, passing the two-furlong pole when both were by then at full stretch?
Leading Light has his foibles, as indicated by the cheekpieces, this year's headgear a la mode at Ballydoyle and a delightful shade of camouflage brown and barely visible at a distance. Furthermore he looks to hold his neck at a slightly unusual angle under pressure.
But, even by simply sticking to the tried-and-tested scheme of keeping the eyes open and ears closed ('Always been one of the best in the stable' etc etc... but, of course), it was hard not to like what he did on the track and I hope he goes on to fly the flag for the St Leger for the rest of this season and in the future.
And as for the notion of him being a rather predictable winner who had taken a predictable route to the race, I'm indebted to Alastair Down's research for the knowledge that the last Leger winner to come into the contest on the back of Queen's Vase victory came 172 years ago. No wonder Leading Light's prospects were overlooked in '10-year-trends' pieces.
From next year, the meeting will clash with the new Irish Champions Day fixture - a situation that sponsors Ladbrokes have made entirely-understandable murmurings about - but I'd fancy the Doncaster fixture to hold its own.
For a second time in the last five years, Eddie Lynam picked out the Park Stakes months in advance as a target for one of the stars of his team and got the Group Two success that forward planning deserved.
Nor does Leopardstown offer its racegoers much that marks out the Doncaster experience. I love the way that the jockeys have to run a very public gauntlet to get back from the winner's enclosure to the sanctuary of the weighing room. I love the perfectly-maintained original Victorian toilets under the clock tower. I love the proper food court on the first floor of the main grandstand and the fact that you can sit down in a wooden chair at a wooden table and eat pie and peas with a [wooden] knife and fork for a fiver. Show me somewhere at Epsom where you can do the same on Derby Day.
Even John Gosden got swept along on the tide of positive vibes when describing Town Moor's layout as "about the best galloping track in Europe" in the build-up to the big race.
After the comprehensive defeat of Excess Knowledge and the slightly flat performance of Gregorian in the Park, both performances being put down to the undefoot conditions by the trainer, Gosden could have been forgiven for tempering his view.
Yet given that it rained every day during the course of the week (and once again, looking at weather forecasts proved a fundamentally useless exercise for the management and its patrons alike) the turf seemed to hold up well enough after four days of racing.
Indeed, the only thing I can find to criticise Doncaster about is their mathematics. Having sent out a press release claiming that "nearly 14,000" were at the track on Ladies Day on Thursday, that figure had happily become 14,500 by the end of the week enabling the track to break the obviously-significant 60,000-barrier for the meeting by 25. Thank Heavens for those 500-odd late arrivals.