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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

St Leger: Dubai-backed Defoe could make up for Godolphin absence

Owned by Sheikh Obaid Al Maktoum, he will likely be a contender on testing Newbury track, says trainer Roger Varian.

Defoe won a handicap at Newbury racecourse on May 20. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images
Defoe won a handicap at Newbury racecourse on May 20. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images

Defoe, carrying the silks of Dubai owner Sheikh Obaid Al Maktoum, has emerged as a likely challenger for the Group 1 St Leger in the absence of the Godolphin colours in the race.

Roger Varian believes the horse has the qualities that could see him follow in the footsteps of the trainer’s 2014 winner Kingston Hill in the final classic of the English season at Doncaster on Saturday.

The grey colt by the multiple Group 1 winner Dalakhani comes into the race having won all his four starts this season.

He won a handicap at Newbury in May and maintained that form to complete the four-timer in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer on August 19, his first and last success both on soft underfoot conditions.

With more rains forecast over the track before the race, Varian will have the conditions ideally suited on his horse’s favour.

“Testing ground should suit our guy and I’ve been very happy with him since Newbury,” he said. “I love how he’s come up through the ranks and he’s been very straightforward to train all year.

“He’s come through the back door and isn’t like Kingston Hill, who was a Group 1-winning two-year-old. But I think his form is solid and he’s got a lot of qualities that will put him in a good place on Saturday.”

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Defoe will be tackling the one mile six-and-a-half furlong distance for the first time but proved that the extended trip will not be a problem after winning over 1m 5-1/2f in his last start.

“He’s got good stamina, he’s got a great mind and he can quicken – he’s not just a galloper,” Varian added. “We’ll find out on the day whether he is good enough, but I think that’s really the only question. Everything else ought to be in his favour.”

Andrea Atzeni who rides Defoe thinks he’s got a "big chance" despite moving up to Group 1 level for the first time.

“The rain that’s arrived has helped his chances because, while he’s won on good ground, he’s better on softer going,” he said.

Aidan O’Brien has four out of the 11 runners with the Irish champion trainer leaning on Capri, Venice Beach and Douglas Macarthur to carry his hopes for a fifth St Leger title.

“Capri missed his intended run in the Great Voltigeur at York, but he seems fine now and I am happy with him. His work has been good at home,” O’Brien said.

“He won the Beresford last year on heavy and he has plenty of form with cut in the ground so I would say that the going at Doncaster, if there is some ease in it, will not be a problem to him.”

Of the others to consider in the race are Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean and John Gosden’s pair Stradivarius, winner of the Group 1 Goodwood Cup, and Coronet.