The Insider: Hart of gold
The Insider looks at the Ladbrokes St Leger to find an alternative to antepost favourite Kingston Hill.
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Last year, Leading Light arrived at Doncaster having won all three starts during his three-year-old campaign, latterly the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot. He looked the class horse with sufficient toe to cope with a drop in trip and so it proved.
Almost twelve months on, we creep towards a far more complex renewal but one which looks set to produce a shorter-priced favourite in Kingston Hill.
Roger Varian's colt has the single best piece of form in the book, and one which also hinted - without confirming - that 14 furlongs will suit.
His vain pursuit of Australia in the Investec Derby, in which Romsdal was a never-threatening third having never joined the fight, entitles him to favouritism, and with circumstance against him I can take a favourable view of his Coral-Eclipse run.
Indeed, if his astute trainer gets him there in peak condition which I suspect he will, and if early September doesn't prove to be uncharacteristically dry, Kingston Hill strikes me as comfortably the most likely winner of the St Leger.
But there are just about enough doubts to swerve him at 3/1. Stamina looks likely but isn't assured, ditto fitness, and it's 15 years since the winner of this race had finished outside of the first three on his previous start. That fact alone isn't enough to beat him, but it does serve to underline the size of the task ahead.
What's more, it's difficult to see how his price contracts markedly between now and the off and it's just possible that bookmaker battles force his price out to the 4/1 mark, at which he'd become extremely hard to resist.
As is typical of this particular race, alternatives to the favourite are many and varied and much will depend on which horse is still moving forward.
Snow Sky hails from fashionable connections and has run in two of the key St Leger trials, winning the Gordon Stakes before chasing home Postponed in the Voltigeur, a performance which suggested that he can improve for a mile and six.
Seven of the last 10 winners had run in one or both of those trials, always with credit, and this Nayef colt deserves his position in the market without looking overpriced.
Similar comments apply to Romsdal, who has long looked to be crying out for this distance. John Gosden's horse - one of three likely runners for the yard - would be of more interest were it not for the fact he was beaten out of sight in the King George, when Richard Hughes went easy on him having felt his mount wasn't quite right.
Like the favourite, Romsdal brings strong form credentials but has history to defy and at the prices he too can be left alone.
Arguably of greater interest is stablemate Forever Now, a late-developing type whose win at Goodwood last time confirms what his pedigree suggests - that the St Leger distance is ideal at this point in time. He had a proper race that day to see off Alex My Boy and that will serve him well at Doncaster.
Gosden's attack on the race he's won four times is completed by Marzocco, who remains a turf maiden having failed to add to a juvenile success at Kempton. Beaten in first-time blinkers at York, his form is below the required standard.
Johnston, who trains Alex My Boy, has Somewhat and Hartnell as other options and it's the latter - for whom this race has long been the plan - who catches the eye at double-figure prices.
Clearly, his defeat in the Voltigeur - in which both Marzocco and Granddukeoftuscany finished in front of him - needs forgiving and, as mentioned, it also puts history against him.
However, Johnston's record at York makes it easier to excuse and if you do so, there's a case to be made at 14/1.
Arguably unfortunate behind Snow Sky at Lingfield, Hartnell has since won the Queen's Vase and the Bahrain Trophy, which have acted as good trials themselves over the years. Clearly, both offer clues in terms of stamina, more so than the more illustrious trials from which the market leaders often emerge.
In the latter he was almost three lengths too good for Windshear with Forever Now a further three lengths back, and while he had run of the race that day his superioty at the line was clear.
These two performances marked him out as an ideal Leger type - improving, certain to stay, adaptable with regards ground and extremely tough - and on the back of them, he was as short as 5/1.
Now, he's available at 14/1 and while there are questions to be answered which didn't exist before, it's worth forgiving Hartnell his York abberation. Certainly, the yard haven't lost faith and Joe Fanning - who would ideally like a bit of cut in the ground for his mount - could cap a fine season with a first Classic winner.
This is a race which Yorkshire-based Johnston is desperate to win and, to my mind, it plays to his strengths as a trainer, despite the fact his runners in it have been rare.
The last of them was Corsica back in 2010, a horse who'd followed a similar path having been fourth in the Queen's Vase and won the Bahrain Trophy and he threatened to spring a major surprise before finishing third at 40/1. Hartnell may be equipped to go even closer.
Windshear, so unfortunate not to have added to his reappearance win, seems sure to give his running and is the other to consider at this stage if you can get a double-figure price. Always thought of as a horse who would continue to improve as a three-year-old, Richard Hannon's horse has done nothing but and will be a major factor if he stays.
There are no such question marks around Hartnell, though, and he's considered the value call at the time of writing.