Andrea Atzeni — the William Hill St Leger Stakes’ winning jockey in 2014 and 2015 — believes he will be on-board the perfect horse for the latest instalment of Great Britain’s oldest Classic on Saturday (3.35pm).
The 26-year-old, who is based on the outskirts of Newmarket, will partner up with Roger Varian’s in-form colt Defoe — a winner on all four of his outings in 2017.
The latest of those victories, with Atzeni in the saddle, came at Newbury in last month’s Betfred Geoffrey Freer Stakes and proved that the three-year-old should have no problem in lasting the one-mile-and-six-furlong trip at Doncaster.
There are, though, question marks over some of the other leading contenders, with Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean having never gone beyond 11 furlongs, while the John Gosden-trained Stradivarius hinted by winning the Qatar Goodwood Cup Stakes that he is more suited to longer distances.
Atzeni, meanwhile, has no such worries where the son of 2003 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe champion Dalakhani is concerned.
“Roger was very keen to try him over a mile and six and while Newbury was just short of that, he stayed really well,” said Atzeni.
“It is going to be a tough race — it is a Classic so you would not expect anything less.
“Crystal Ocean and Stradivarius are both very good horses that are more than capable of winning the race.
“But Crystal Ocean needs to prove he gets the trip and with Stradivarius, he is more of a stayer who is coming back in trip.
“Those questions will need to be answered, but Defoe fits in perfectly — we know he gets the trip and is primed to perform.”
The combination of Atzeni and Varian has come up trumps before in the St Leger when Kingston Hill powered through a deep pack to win three years ago.
Unlike Defoe, Kingston Hill was already a Group 1-winning horse (Racing Post Trophy in 2013) prior to his Town Moor Course success, but Atzeni does see some similarities between the pair.
“Kingston Hill was a good fit for the Leger and Defoe is the same,” added Atzeni, who is hoping for soft ground to boost his mount’s chances of winning.
“Defoe is improving all of the time and he wins races by just doing enough in a similar fashion to Kingston Hill.
“Neither of them are flashy, they just look to get the job done. It would be great to land another Classic alongside Roger.”