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Kingston a firm Leger fancy despite fears over ground


Andrea Atzeni riding Kingston Hill

Andrea Atzeni riding Kingston Hill

Getty Images

Andrea Atzeni riding Kingston Hill

It is 51 years since an Irish-trained St Leger winner hailed from anywhere bar Ballydoyle and that won't change today, with Aidan O'Brien's Granddukeoftuscany the sole raider in the season's final Classic.

O'Brien, for that matter, is unlikely to add to his four wins since 2001, as Granddukeoftuscany, with just a maiden win to its name in three outings, simply doesn't look good enough. A total of 14 runners are poised to tackle the prestigious Doncaster Group One, but it will turn on the performance of one horse.

Kingston Hill is the outstanding candidate for the mile-and-six-furlong event. Earlier in the week, his trainer Roger Varian stressed that the Derby runner-up would be highly likely to run, rightly pointing out how good-to-firm ground in the autumn is a world removed from its summer equivalent.

At the time, the going was on the soft side of good. However, parts of the track have since dried out, prompting Varian to make a slightly dramatic threat on Thursday to withdraw Kingston Hill if officials didn't water the course before today.

While Varian wasn't on Town Moor yesterday, the veracity of his original observation dawned on him in the meantime, and he confirmed yesterday that his stable star would turn up. Talk about going around in circles!

Kingston Hill ran on good-to-firm ground in the 2,000 Guineas and again when last seen finishing fourth in the Eclipse at Sandown in July. This is the final Classic, so the prospect of Varian eschewing such a gilt-edged opportunity was unconscionable.

At Doncaster last October, his Mastercraftsman colt stormed home on soft ground in the Racing Post Trophy. He was completely unsuited by the speed test of the Guineas on his return, yet ran with plenty credit in a vintage edition to be beaten five lengths behind Night Of Thunder.

Epsom was far more to his liking, and he again emerged with his reputation enhanced when keeping Australia honest all the way up the straight, the pair drawing clear of John Gosden's re-opposing Romsdal. That was the most suitable opportunity that Kingston Hill has had this year prior to today, and he got closer to Australia and gave him a harder race than anything else has managed since.

On fast ground in the Eclipse, Kingston Hill again ran a satisfactory race. In a tactical affair, he had to come from an unfavourable rear position off a slow pace on fast ground. He was never going to win but flashed home for fourth behind Mukhadram.

There is nothing in today's field that comes close to matching his profile, and the only surprise is that he is as big as 3/1. Maybe that is due to the uncertainty over the trip. His pedigree doesn't scream that he needs this far, but his run at Epsom was encouraging.

Moreover, he might have enough quality to get home even if the distance does stretch his limit. If Kingston Hill runs to the full of his ability, then, he is strongly fancied to win for the excellent Andrea Atzeni.

As for the remainder, Snow Sky is second favourite, but it is Romsdal that would appeal as better alternative should Kingston Hill misfire. While Romsdal didn't run his race in the King George, Gosden has since prepared him specifically for this, and there are few so well versed at that particular job as the four-time winner.

Gosden should take the Group Two Park Stakes with Gregorian in the same Princess Haya silks. Sabrina Harty's Ansgar is certainly respected, as his last two starts over this seven-furlong trip resulted in Group wins at the Curragh and Goodwood.

Nonetheless, Gregorian has been operating at a higher level. A cracking third in the July Cup, he was pipped by Breton Rock at Newbury, just six days after getting stuck in the mud in France. William Buick's mount will have had better prep for this, so odds of around 4/1 are appealing against the frustrating favourite Aljamaaheer.

In the Portland Handicap, Algar Lad could be overpriced at 14/1. Successful in its last two outings and five times in total two over this five-furlong trip, David O'Meara's charge has gone up seven pounds for winning at Ascot last week, but there could be another day in him under Sam James.

Best bet: Kingston Hill


Watching brief

Treve and Toronado are on Group One duty on Longchamp's Arc trials day tomorrow. Both are likely to take plenty beating if they perform, and they are priced accordingly.

Aidan O'Brien will saddle two on the undercard, with Frankie Dettori on Ruler Of The World and Ryan Moore on Kingsbarns in the Prix Foy. Moore also rides Adelaide in the Prix Niel, and he is the one of most interest at up to 5/1.

A decisive winner of the Secretariat Stakes under Moore at Arlington Park, the Galileo colt is stepping back up to 12 furlongs for a first time since finishing second to Eagle Top in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.

That was a cracking effort, with the St Leger-bound Snow Sky well held in fourth. Adelaide certainly wasn't beaten for stamina, but it is a mark of his quality that he does so well over 10 furlongs, finishing second in the Belmont Derby prior to Arlington.

Indeed, next month's mile-and-a-quarter Cox Plate is on Adelaide's agenda, but O'Brien has identified this Group Two as a decent opportunity en route. Gallante - also owned by Coolmore - and Ectot are the dangers.

Both are progressive, but their form is questionable, so they are opposable with a horse of Adelaide's quality.

Irish Independent