x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dettori finds going tough

Frankie Dettori is looking to the skies and hoping for rain ahead of this weekend's St Leger.

Jockey Frankie Dettori is hoping the weather gods will help the turf to soften up and help his mount Kite Wood at the St Leger.
Jockey Frankie Dettori is hoping the weather gods will help the turf to soften up and help his mount Kite Wood at the St Leger.

DUBAI// Frankie Dettori is looking to the skies and hoping for rain ahead of this weekend's St Leger to make certain his ride, Godolphin's Kite Wood, fulfils his potential in the blue riband race. The jockey says the Dubai superpower's five-year Classic drought can be ended but that he needs the turf to soften to give himself the best possible chance of coming home in front.

And the bookmakers are in agreement, Kite Wood was recently overtaken as St Leger favourite by Aidan O'Brien's Age of Aquarius, in response to announcements that the ground at Doncaster was coming up good to firm. An exciting crop of Godolphin two-year-olds will no doubt stand the stable in good stead when the Classics get under way next spring, but with the St Leger being the season's final Classic, time to land one of the major three-year-old races runs out on Saturday afternoon.

The last time Godolphin won a Classic was at Doncaster when Kerrin McEvoy triumphed on Rule of Law in 2004, although it is a race that Godolphin's Saeed bin Suroor has won as a trainer four times in the past. Dettori also has an excellent record in the St Leger, having been welcomed into the winners' enclosure five times, but only once for bin Suroor. The Italian rode Sir Michael Stoute's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes-winning Conduit to victory in 2008.

Dettori says he has seen marked progress in late-developer Kite Wood since steering him to a disappointing 13-and-a-half-length ninth to the winner, Sea the Stars, in the Group One Epsom Derby in June, and he knew he would get the 1m6f St Leger trip. After stepping down in class, Kite Wood suddenly started to fly, putting together two Group Three winning runs in the Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket, and following up with a superior win over 1m5f at Newbury in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes.

Dettori's only major concern ahead of the race is the going, which could slow his horse down considerably if it gets any firmer. "All along we thought he'd be a St Leger horse," said Dettori. "And we knew he'd stay the distance after we tried him in the Geoffrey Freer. "He's a progressive horse and has come on a lot this year and deserves to be there or thereabouts. We're not taking anything for granted though - he would like some rain to ease the ground and unfortunately it doesn't look as if he's likely to get it."

The Galileo colt will run alongside Godolphin's second string, Mastery, who will be ridden on Saturday by Ted Durcan and, unlike his stablemate, is said by racing manager Simon Crisford to love fast ground. "It would be great to win it after the good season we've had," said Dettori. "We are doing everything we can now to make sure the horse gets there in the best possible shape to really get the job done."

O'Brien saddles Changingoftheguard, Rockhampton and Von Jawlensky alongside the favourite, Age of Aquarius. "Age Of Aquarius handles fast ground well, has a high cruising speed and we think should get a mile and a half-plus well," said the master of Ballydoyle. "We've been looking forward to the race since he ran at Longchamp. We always thought he was a horse that would be suited by the St Leger from a little while back."

Four-time winning trainer Henry Cecil bids for his first St Leger victory since 1989 with Father Time, who is said by connections to be looking the best ever, while Sea the Stars handler, John Oxx, will start Mourayan who has been specifically prepared for this race and though he also would like some rain, the trainer says his horse can handle the faster ground. stregoning@thenational.ae