At The Races expert James Flaherty has the lowdown on every runner and a big race verdict in Saturday’s St Leger from Doncaster, live on Sky Sports Racing.
Jockey: Sean Levey | Trainer Aidan O’Brien
The least experienced horse in the line-up this year after just three career starts. On the first of those in a Galway maiden he made a big impression when beating stablemate Espionage, himself a Listed winner this season. Alexandroupolis hasn’t quite kicked on from that success, however. He was disappointing when only third as an odds-on favourite for the Ballysax at Leopardstown in April.
After a few months off the track, he returned to action in the Vinnie Roe Stakes but was again pretty flat and trailed home in sixth in the Listed contest. It is interesting that he turns up here, but it is difficult to have any confidence in him after his last two racecourse appearances. While it is hard to rule one out coming from Ballydoyle, I’d be surprised if he is involved in the finish based on what he has shown.
Frankie Dettori | John & Thady Gosden
While Arrest won his maiden on good to firm ground at Sandown as a juvenile, he has disappointed twice this season in better company on quicker conditions, including at Epsom in the Derby when the track was given as a possible reason for his poor showing. In contrast, he was seriously impressive at in the Chester Vase before the Derby on heavy ground, a performance that saw him shoot to the head of the ante-post market for the Epsom classic.
He returned to form at Newbury last time with softer underfoot conditions. He appears to be ground dependent and may not even take his chance if the ground is good come the time of the race. On soft ground though, he would be a player. Connections will be hoping every bit of rain forecast (and more) arrives to give him the best chance of success. The apparent choice of Frankie Dettori but a decision that may have been made on the assumption of soft ground.
James Doyle | Simon & Ed Crisford
Considering he only had one start as a juvenile in November last year, he has been kept busy this season with five starts since April. He is an interesting one to study in this race, particularly because he ties some of the form lines together. He has finished behind both Gregory and Desert Hero in the Queen’s Vase and Gordon Richards respectively.
He was no match for Gregory in the closing stages of the Royal Ascot contest, eventually finishing over five lengths back in third but he was a little keen in the early stages. He fared better at Goodwood back at 12f, but I felt he got a very clever ride on that occasion and possibly the result flattered him a little. I’ve a sneaky feeling he is not progressing as much as some of the others in the field.
Ryan Moore | Aidan O’Brien
Continuous comes into the race as the highest rated horse in the line-up on official figures after a career best effort last time in the Great Voltigeur at York earned him a lofty rating of 115. Plenty has been made of how that race developed and there is no doubt he was certainly advantaged by his position, held up off a strong pace. The question which is harder to answer is how much that advantage was worth?
The winning margin was enough to suggest that he might well have won anyway. It is worth noting that the third horse home in that contest, the reopposing Gregory, does have a 3lb swing here. Continuous has been a steady improver this season though and ran well behind King Of Steel at Royal Ascot prior to his York run. He shaped as though he will stay this longer distance and he did win on very soft in France as a juvenile, although the form of that would be at a lower level.
Danny Tudhope | Aidan O’Brien
Denmark went agonisingly close to success on Arc weekend at Parislongchamp last October, but that is the closest he has come to adding to his debut success. He was behind Alexandroupolis in the Ballysax when finishing fifth and returned from a break to find only Middle Earth too good in the Melrose, giving that rival 4lb.
That form looks short of what will be required here though, and he was a beaten favourite at Haydock last weekend in a handicap off a revised mark of 102. It will be a big ask to get competitive here off the back of that rather lacklustre effort. It appears team Ballydoyle have stronger hopes elsewhere.
Tom Marquand | W J Haggas
Desert Hero put himself into the picture for the St Leger when he won a strong renewal of the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot. That was his first try beyond 10f and he clearly improved for the stamina test, reversing London Gold Cup form with Bertinelli in the process. That narrow win only came off a mark of 94 but he was value for more than the winning margin suggests having encountered a troubled passage.
Desert Hero continued his progress at Goodwood when gaining a first pattern success in the Gordon Richard’s Stakes. He got the better of the reopposing Chesspiece close home on that occasion and I would expect him to uphold that form. He looks progressive and any further improvement (most likely given his upward graph in his last two starts) would put him right in the mix.
Frankie Dettori | John & Thady Gosden
Suffered his first defeat at the hands of Continuous in the aforementioned Great Voltigeur, when one of the victims of an early pace that was too strong. To his credit, he kept going all the way to the line when it appeared as though he might fade away entirely. I think it’s hard to base too much on that run as everything went wrong for him on the day.
He is better judged on his Royal Ascot success in the Group 2 Queen’s Vase over this trip when he outstayed a decent field (including Chesspiece). This trip will probably suit him better than 1m 4f assuming his energy is more evenly distributed. He is unraced on ground softer than good so connections will possibly be hoping the rain stays away for him, in contrast to his stablemate, Arrest.
Oisin Murphy | John & Thady Gosden
Supplemented for this contest off the back of winning the Melrose at York’s Ebor Festival. While he may appear third choice of the Gosden string in the market it would be dangerous to discount him. However, that bare form would leave him with a little to find in this company and it is a big ask to go from winning a handicap straight onto winning a Group 1, let alone a Classic.
The form of that Melrose hasn’t quite set the world alight either. The fact that Denmark was soundly beaten at Haydock last weekend, with the fourth home from York even further back raises question marks about Middle Earth’s chances of progressing enough to win a Group 1 here. He is not without hope but needs to take a sizable step forward.
TOWER OF LONDON
Jim Crowley | Aidan O’Brien
He was one of the horses that first struck me as a candidate for this race earlier in the season and he was probably top of my shortlist until he met with defeat at the hands of Castle Way at Newmarket’s July Festival. At the time I thought the race didn’t quite pan out for him but the more I look at it, the more I feel it was a slightly disappointing effort.
Perhaps it was just a case of him finding his level and while we will know more about him on Saturday, I have changed my initial view of him. He has disappointed a couple of times on soft ground so he is another one that will be hoping it remains dry in the lead up to the race. Whatever happens weather wise, he might just find a couple too good anyway.
JAMES FLAHERTY’S VERDICT
The race presents an opportunity for one of these to clinch a first Group 1 success. The race brings together different profiles with Continuous and Arrest campaigned like potential Group 1 horses from an early stage this season. In contrast, Desert Hero, Chesspiece and Middle Earth have progressed through handicaps at various points. The most interesting profile and the potential fly in the ointment is Gregory, who has always been well thought of, but has been brought along quite softly by John and Thady Gosden. He has a Group 2 success already though in his short career.
I prefer horses that have been aimed at better races as there is a marked difference between Group 1 races and handicaps, even the pace at which they are run at. As a result, Arrest and Continuous are at the top of my shortlist, with Gregory joining them.
The weather looks likely to play a big role in this one and if the ground was to remain on the soft side (or get worse) then I would be firmly in the ARREST camp. He is a horse I’ve liked since his debut when he featured in my weekly Eyecatchers column on attheraces.com. We know he will handle soft ground, which is less than can be said for many of his rivals and I thought his win last time at Newbury was quite authoritative.
If the rain stays away and the course dries out, then CONTINUOUS might be the one. I wouldn’t say he is certain to confirm the form with Gregory who went too hard too early last time but I think he may be a safer option. He has the best form on offer coming into the race in my opinion, even if it is marginal. If he does stay this longer trip he has the class, having run well in the Dante and the King Edward VII.
Tactics will be fascinating, and I think Ballydoyle might attempt to light up the likes of Gregory and even Arrest. They may well succeed and if they do, I am sure Continuous will be played late, just like his York win.
SELECTION: Soft ground or slower: ARREST | Ground quicker than soft: CONTINUOUS