from GERALD EGAN of At The Races

The Irish St Leger doesn’t have quite the rich history of its English counterpart but nonetheless has an important place on the fixture list for stayers. A Group 1 contest in its own right it also provides a platform for notable autumn targets such as the Prix du Cadran, the recently upgraded British Champions Long Distance Cup and probably most importantly the Melbourne Cup.

Dermot Weld’s legendary Vintage Crop changed history in 1993 becoming the first horse outside of Australia and New Zealand to win Australia’s most famous race, completing a historic Irish St. Leger and Cup double. Since this breakthrough win there has been a strong link between the two races. Until this year the relationship was formally recognised in the Melbourne Cup race conditions with the winner of the Irish St Leger exempt from the crucial ballot, handed a special right to run.

However, the relationship between the two events is not always symbiotic. The distraction of the massive pots for stayers in Australia has added to the uncertainty surrounding the final field for this year’s Irish St Leger. Connections of Royal Diamond and Red Cadeaux had originally planned to run both at the Curragh and in the $2.5 million Caulfield Cup as a build up to the Melbourne Cup. Due to Australia’s strict quarantine regulations, both horses would have had to enter quarantine this week making such a campaign impossible.

Race plans for the pair were up in the air until as late as Thursday when to the relief of the Curragh Johnny Murtagh elected to forego Caulfield giving Royal Diamond, the 2012 winner, the opportunity to defend his Irish St Leger title. The connections of Red Cadeux, third in this event on the way to a narrow defeat in Melbourne in 2011, have made a similar commitment to the Curragh.

The waters have also been muddied by David Wachman’s decision to declare Galileo Rock for both the Irish and English St Legers, with preference for the latter if the surface is genuine. If Wachman elects to bypass Doncaster his colt faces a formidable challenge at the Curragh. Following a string of victories in the late 80s three-year-olds have struggled in the Irish St Leger after it became an open age event with Vinnie Roe the only winner from that age group since 1989.

Several Irish St Leger winners have unsuccessfully attempted to complete the cross hemisphere double at Flemington since Vintage Crop’s famous win off the relative featherweight of 8-10 twenty years ago. The Cup Handicapper quickly learnt his lesson after the Irish gelding’s victory, in hindsight a weight certainty after his Curragh win. There has been a succession of Irish St Leger winners lumbered with top weight at Flemington including four times Leger winner Vinnie Roe, Yeats and Septimus all finding the weight impost an impossible hurdle.

This year’s Irish St Leger winner will likely be looking anxiously at the reaction of Handicapper Greg Carpenter when he releases weights for the Melbourne Cup next Tuesday. A win at the Curragh might come at a heavy cost – the allocation by Carpenter of an impossible burden to carry on the first Tuesday in November.