The St Leger proved to be the cracker many had anticipated, with the Aidan O’Brien favourite Capri landing the odds in a thrilling finish.
He’d looked the standout on form, having captured the Irish Derby at the beginning of July. And so it proved, though he had to show grit and determination to hold off a strong challenge from both Stradivarius and the highly talented Crystal Ocean.
Ryan Moore had kept Capri near the front-end throughout, seemingly confident that the colt would get every yard of the St Leger trip. Speaking to ITV immediately after the success, Moore said: “He’s a very good horse, an Irish Derby winner and was a Group Two winning two-year-old. He dug in and fought very hard, and it was a very good performance in a very good Leger.
Aidan O’Brien was securing a fabulous fifth St Leger, and said of the winner: “The lads did a great job. We had a little blip around York time, so were a bit worried coming here. But Ryan gave him a class ride, and I can’t tell you how happy we all are. He’s a horse with a lot of class, like obviously we saw in the Irish Derby.” When asked about the challenge from Crystal Ocean he added: “I’m always worried, and until they go past the line you never know what’s going to happen.”
O’Brien went on to say that Capri could now head for the Arc at Chantilly, assuming he comes out of the race fit and well. Kingston Hill finished fourth in the Arc of 2014 just weeks after winning the St Leger. I’m guessing Capri could run into a place should the ground run on the soft side, though no one should underestimate just how punishing Saturday’s Classic victory would have been.
Crystal Ocean had loomed large at the two-pole having travelled beautifully throughout. Crowley got him to within a length at the furlong pole, but Capri found plenty for pressure, and at the line had a half-length to spare. “I'd prefer to have won it, but he ran a great race, we're thrilled with him,” was Stoute’s verdict of his classy runner-up. “I thought he was going to win, but we won't run him beyond a mile and a half again. It was always a danger that he was a mile-and-a-half horse and that's his trip. Jim (Crowley) gave him a lovely ride and I always felt he might win. Jim reported he was always pretty confident, but he was just outstayed.”
With Stoute’s ability of improving a racehorse from three to four, Crystal Ocean may prove a revelation next season. It seems just a matter of time before he captures a Group One, and with the yard insisting he’d be much stronger next year, he looks to have a sparkling career ahead of him.
Stradivarius battled bravely to the line for a third-place finish, and having already won the Goodwood Cup and Queen’s Vase, looks destined for a crack at next year’s Ascot Gold Cup.
I also felt Rekindling was something of an eye-catcher back in fourth. He was caught a little far back when Capri struck for home, and had to follow Crystal Ocean in cutting through the pack, before finally getting a clear run to the line. He stayed on powerfully, and looks another capable of taking high-rank in the staying division.
As for Coronet in fifth, it appeared she found the trip to be just beyond her. She’ll now head for the Fillies and Mares at Ascot on Champions’ Day, and is sure to be a major player in a race won by John Gosden 12 months ago.
The undoubted disappointment of the Leger was Roger Varian’s Defoe. The progressive colt had been fancied by many, and indeed elected by myself as a major danger to Capri in my Friday piece. Drying ground wouldn’t have helped his cause, but in the end he was simply outclassed. Atzeni was rowing away before the pack turned for home, and as the main contenders stepped on the gas, his challenge fizzled out.
In the final analysis, it was once again the ‘big-guns’ that dominated on the main stage. O’Brien, Stoute and Gosden are the powerhouses of middle-distance events, and though many will say the St Leger suits the stayer, the first two home on Saturday will ply their trade at a mile-and-a-half next season.