Marquand: Desert Hero ticks all the boxes for Leger challenge

A first Classic winner for the King and the Queen this weekend remains a possibility, with Desert Hero one of nine confirmed for the Betfred St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday.

The William Haggas-trained Sea The Stars colt has already entered the record books once this season, when winning the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot.

On that occasion, it was the first time the King and Queen’s colours had been victorious at the Royal meeting since the death of the late Queen, and having enhanced his reputation in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood he now has the chance to follow in the footsteps of Dunfermline, who carried the royal silks to glory in 1977.

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Royal Ascot 2023 – Day Three – Ascot Racecourse
The King with Desert Hero after victory at Royal Ascot (David Davies/PA)

Desert Hero’s rider Tom Marquand has already experienced victory in the Leger, with Galileo Chrome for Joseph O’Brien in 2020.

“He ticks all the boxes of what you want from a Leger horse,” he said of this year’s contender.

“It’s a mile and three-quarters but he has speed, he stays, he relaxes right and he’s with the right team, so fingers crossed we get a good draw and the right trip around.

“It would be amazing (to win a second Leger), and I think the magnitude of it possibly being Desert Hero for the King and Queen is not lost on me after I had that experience at Royal Ascot.

“I didn’t acknowledge the significance of it beforehand. As a jockey you just want to go out and win, you don’t think past what happens getting over the winning line. I think this time it is a little different, the Doncaster crowd are notoriously passionate about their racing and love a big day out. If it was to come off it would be pretty magical.”

Simon and Ed Crisford’s Chesspiece is the sole Godolphin representative and was second behind Desert Hero on the Sussex Downs, while John and Thady Gosden could saddle three in the race having confirmed both market leader Gregory and the Juddmonte-owned Arrest as well as supplementing Melrose winner Middle Earth.

Oisin Murphy rides the latter and is excited about his prospects. He told Sky Sports Racing: “He has to step up on his Melrose victory, but the form has been franked. He beat Naqeeb at Newmarket in the novice and he won really at Haydock (on Saturday) and Kempton the time before, so hopefully he’s improving and I’m looking forward to riding him.

“Sheikh Fahad has won the race before with Simple Verse, so hopefully he’ll be bang there.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be a very big field, but there’s some good horses in there.

“Time will tell, but I think he’s a horse with the right profile and I’d be very excited about his future in general anyway.”

Gregory has the chance to give Frankie Dettori one last Classic success and although losing his unbeaten record in the Great Voltigeur at York last month, he won the Queen’s Vase over this distance at Royal Ascot.

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Frankie Dettori leaps from Gregory in the winner’s enclosure at Royal Ascot
Frankie Dettori leaps from Gregory in the winner’s enclosure at Royal Ascot (David Davies/PA)

Great Voltigeur winner Continuous is one of four in the mix for Aidan O’Brien alongside Denmark, Alexandroupolis and Bahrain Trophy runner-up Tower Of London.

Providing an update on ground conditions, Doncaster’s clerk of the course Paul Barker said: “We are currently good on the straight course and good, good to soft in places on the round course. We had a few thundery showers over the weekend, but are sunny today, with the potential of some more showers tonight and tomorrow.

“Racing on Thursday and Friday are set fair, with some showers forecast Friday evening, into Saturday.”

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