Jamie Lynch: St Leger Preview

Take Frankel’s eight highest-rated sons and daughters so far from around the world. Six of them have achieved a personal best over a distance greater than he ever raced. The poster boy for the Frankelistic future is Cracksman, who’s becoming fearsome like Frankel when in full flow but takes time for the tachometer to rev up, his mechanics more in tune with Galileo, whose blue blood fuelled the first three home in last year’s Arc de Triomphe.

The case was perhaps even more compelling for Cracksman to come to Doncaster this weekend than it is for him to return to Chantilly next month. Even in a St Leger as high and mighty as this year’s edition, Cracksman would be 11/8 favourite had he vaulted from the Voltiguer across Yorkshire.

And so it has come to this for Frankel, last to first, as the last chance for his first crop to win a European classic lies with a 25/1 shot who has barely got a line in the star-studded script already written for the latest chapter in the Leger legend. But out of the spotlight, and in the rehearsals, Count Octave has been finding his voice, readying himself to play a big part, rather than the perceived bit part, in the Doncaster drama.

Count Octave has some climbing to do to reach the classic crest, but he’s further up the mountain than his odds imply. He was less than four lengths off the Derby winner when very green at Chester, a neck away from Stradivarius when very different at Royal Ascot, and second in the March Stakes when very compromised by the slow pace, behind a horse, Call To Mind, who has snapped at the heels of both Crystal Ocean and Defoe at different times this summer.

‘In spite of how the race went he ran with real credit,’ said Andrew Balding, trainer of Count Octave, referring to Goodwood three weeks ago. ‘It was a preparation race for the Leger and I wasn’t disappointed that he hadn’t won.

‘We decided it was worth a go at the Leger, even though it’s a very strong race – there are six or seven horses in there who, in a normal year, might be Leger favourite.’

Running to a Timeform rating of 113 in the March Stakes was some achievement considering the crawl around Goodwood that never tapped into his true power, his staying power. ‘He has always shaped like a stayer,’ explained Balding, ‘as his pedigree would suggest, or certainly the dam’s side.’

And that’s where Frankel comes in. The dam, Honorine, has produced an Irish Derby winner in Treasure Beach (by Galileo) and a Group-placed stayer in Elidor, but the influence, and its extent, of a new, supercharged stallion was the equine equivalent of the cold-fusion experiment.

Only time and the trajectory of his special emissaries this year has shed light on his gauged gift of stamina, not that Balding was ever preoccupied or pressured by the fired-up Frankels that shot off the blocks last summer. Of his aforementioned eight highest rollers at this point, all bar two of them raced only once or not at all last year, including Count Octave, who was kept under wraps until October, over nine furlongs, when he was third to Monarchs Glen, one of the handful of headstrong Frankels that still needs a counsellor. In every sense, patience is a virtue with his stock.

‘He was always a later-maturing type,’ said Balding of Count Octave. ‘Even now, there’s still physical development for him to make. He’s quite a tall horse, but he’s always been athletic, and a good mover. All the same, we were pretty certain that he’d improve as a three-year-old, so we didn’t want to go to the well too often last year.’

The planted seed was quick to sprout. ‘We started him a little bit earlier as a three-year-old, hence his run at Wolverhampton [maiden in March], just to see where we were at in terms of trials.’

Odds-on, it was a routine win in many respects, over a mile and a half, though a closing two-furlong split of just 23.5 seconds was revealing, a flicker of the Frankel fire, certainly a stayer but certainly not slow.

In a poll of English words that people are unsure how to pronounce, fourth on the list was ‘vase’ – should it rhyme with place, or should it be said like vahz? The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t matter one jot, but the type of vase mattered to Count Octave, all at sea in the Chester Vase but all systems go in the Queen’s Vase, the day he went from a boy to a man, evidently not so surprising as his 20/1 odds might suggest.

‘We quite fancied him going to Royal Ascot. He travelled well and knuckled down well. I think his heart is in the right place. And he loved the fast ground – that would be the concern going to Doncaster, whether he’d be as effective on a slower surface.’

The March Stakes was the back-up plan, after the rain had put paid to the preferred route. ‘The trial of choice was always the Voltigeur, and I thought the track at York would suit him well. To my mind, if you’re going to be serious about the Leger, he’s got to be effective in a mile-and-a-half race against quality opposition.

But the ground was very soft that day so we took him out. We’ve always felt that we would run him on soft ground when the prize is big enough to take the risk. I didn’t want to do it for a trial.’

The St Leger is worth £400,000, worth a namecheck on the classic census, worth the risk. And a horse like Count Octave is worth all of the time and effort that has got him this far, and maybe further: ‘I’ve got a lot of faith in him. He’s going to stay Cup distances and he loves fast ground, and that’s always a handy thing with those stayers, having one that can travel strongly. He’s a great horse to have in the yard for next year.’

Next year the Frankel parental picture will become clearer still, but stamina is the byword for 2017, and stamina is forever the byword of the St Leger. Frankel channelled the raw power of Galileo as a racehorse, and he’s conducting the staying power of Galileo as a stallion, so it seems.

Source:: Betfair UK Horse Racing News