John Gosden hopes Lah Ti Dar’s enforced summer absence could prove an advantage in the William Hill St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday.
The daughter of Dubawi looked every inch a top-class prospect when winning at Newbury and Newmarket in the spring and was the ante-post favourite for the Investec Oaks at Epsom before being ruled out following an unsatisfactory blood test.
She was ultimately sidelined for over three months, but appeared better than ever when destroying her rivals in the Galtres Stakes at York and heads to Town Moor – in preference to Sunday’s Prix Vermeille at ParisLongchamp – fresher than the majority of her rivals.
Gosden said: “Frankie (Dettori) was adamant she should she should run in the St Leger when he got off her at York and often the feel a jockey gets when they immediately get off a horse is the one to listen to. He said he could have kept going another three furlongs and she certainly stays well.
“We ummed and aahed about running her in the Yorkshire Oaks (instead of the Galtres Stakes), but thought ‘she’s been off a long time and been sick, so don’t throw her in a Group One’. Instead of having a hard race, she had a lovely extended hand-ride gallop.
“I had no doubt about her level of fitness (at York), but when they’ve been sick like that, you worry.”
Reflecting on the problem that kept Lah Ti Dar out of action, Gosden – who is bidding for a fifth St Leger victory – added ahead of the latest leg of the Qipco British Champions Series: “It was a strange sort of viral thing. Nothing else in the place had it – her bloods were all wrong and she was very down in herself.
“She wasn’t right one afternoon – she had a temperature and we stopped. To that extent you are always terrified about doing some damage to a horse if you go and work them and then they are not right the next day, but luckily she had all the rest and all the time (she needed).
“We missed the Oaks and then we tried to come back, but obviously didn’t make the Ribblesdale. She missed a long, hot summer and so she’s a fresh filly for the autumn with plenty of ability.”
Lah Ti Dar’s chief rival appears to be Kew Gardens, one of five runners for five-times St Leger-winning trainer Aidan O’Brien.
The Galileo colt won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the Grand Prix de Paris during the summer before finishing third under a Group One penalty in last month’s Great Voltigeur at York.
O’Brien said: “I suppose Kew Gardens would be the one (best chance). He is the horse that has already won a Group One and we’ve always loved him.
“He had one disappointing run and that was in the Derby and he disappointed us at Lingfield a little bit when he got beat, so maybe he is a horse that likes a level track.
“We rode him forward a little bit in the Derby and taking our time with him maybe suited him better as well. We took our time at Ascot and he was very good and we’ve taken our time with him every other day since.
“He is a very relaxed horse with a good mind, which always helps.”
Nelson, Southern France, The Pentagon and Zabriskie complete the Ballydoyle quintet.
O’Brien said: “The Pentagon had a break after the Derby and he was just ready to step up when we ran him at York (fifth in Great Voltigeur). He should come on for that and the better the ground, the more it will suit him.
“Southern France is a lovely, big horse – he’s a giant. He’s going to be an even better four-year-old.
“Nelson will handle ease in the ground and stays very well. He gets the trip really well and he seems to be in really good form.”
Charlie Appleby is double-handed, with William Buick partnering Great Voltigeur winner Old Persian and James Doyle aboard Loxley, who was last seen landing a Group Two prize in France.
Old Persian also won the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot before finishing sixth in the Irish Derby.
Appleby said: “He really stepped up at Ascot when winning the King Edward. He had a progressive profile coming into the race and he’s a typical Dubawi in that you never quite know when you’re going to get to the bottom of them.
“We weren’t disappointed with his run in the Irish Derby, it was just one of those races where we knew we were backing up quick enough and the race didn’t pan out as we expected.
“But we got back on track in the Great Voltigeur. I thought it was a very game performance and therefore he’s justified his place in the St Leger and he’s certainly a live contender. He’s got all the right attributes.”
Mark Johnston has long considered Investec Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee as an ideal contender for the world’s oldest Classic.
Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, said: “We’ve given him a bit of a break as he has gone a bit lethargic in his last two races. He has not travelled with his usual fluency. We are hoping the slightly slower ground will help him travel better through the first half of the race.
“People underestimate horses that are deemed exposed. Lah Ti Dar might have a sexy profile, but our horse has achieved a lot more.
“He has been beaten nine times and is not three out of three like Lah Ti Dar. It is easy to crab horses like him, but he has been second in a Derby, which is the best piece of form on show.
“If the trip helps him and it re-ignites the horse that we saw finish second at Epsom, then he has got a good chance.”