Ad Ganbare on the way to the barriers prior to the running of the MSS Security Sires' Produce Stakes at Flemington. Photo by Scott Barbour/Racing Photos

VRC St Leger: A story of hanging tough

24 April 2024 Written by Adam Blencowe – Racing & Sports Senior Handicapper

Ganbare translates from Japanese to English as something like ‘persevere’; to hang tough. It is hard to imagine a more fitting name for one that heads the ratings for the VRC St Leger; a race that predates the Melbourne Cup.

The Leger is about perseverance. Speed is still all-important - the race goes to the swift - but the ability to sustain it, to hang tough, is ultimately rewarded.

Ganbare’s Leger claims go deeper than his name. They are about who he is and, importantly, where he is from.

Trainer Gai Waterhouse has won the St Leger five times and has done so with just eight runners since 2013. Five wins has her just one shy of her father, TJ Smith – it is clearly a race that fits the family eye.

There is a trick to it. Gai brings guns to a knife fight. All five of her winners came with a higher rating than winning the Leger required of them. They had been hardened for battle – four of the five having faced Group racing in Sydney before coming to Flemington – and were ready to persevere.

Only one of those five winners came to Flemington rated higher than the 112-rated Ganbare. Order Of The Sun was rated 113 – he won by seven lengths.

Ganbare comes from the same place and with the same grounding. He was not at his very best in the Derby, running ninth, but his rating there is still better than anything that the rest of the field have achieved so far, and the Derby has proven fertile ground for Leger winners.

Looking across a fifteen-year set, 12 runners have come to the Leger via the Australian Derby. Three winners include two of the Waterhouse trio and Alegron for James Cummings – the three accumulated more than a dozen lengths in winning margin between them.

Evidence for the power of the Derby continues to pile up: three winners is more than three times what we would expect a randomly selected dozen to provide over the past fifteen editions and they have beaten home 27.5% more runners at Flemington than they had at Randwick. From the twelve, only Zoumon (fourth in the Derby and fifth in the Leger) finished in a lower position at Flemington.

Of course, Ganbare will need to finish in a better position at Flemington, and beat a greater percentage of runners home, than he did when just ninth at Randwick but his credentials are there for all to see.

Others too have been grounded and galvanised in better company up north – Ciaron Maher opting to skip the Derby with his well-beaten Tulloch (a winner of this great race) pair, Dunbelievin’ and Mornington Pier, in favour of further at Flemington.

Neither offered much in the Tulloch but they could be better for having been there all the same and both are rated highly enough to get into the placings in a typical Leger.

The local lead-up, the Galilee (did not win the Leger but sheesh some horse), is chiefly represented by third-placed Cherokee Brave.

Across our fifteen-year set, the Galilee has thrown up five winners of the Leger but that has underwhelmed a market that has expected seven winners from that set of 79 triers who have won less than we could expect simply by chance.

Cherokee Brave can claim to be better than the average runner from that Galilee 79, and is entitled to be seen as a better Leger chance than one simply plucked at random but, like the Tulloch pair, his rating and profile looks the sort that typically gets placed in the Leger rather than wins it.

X-factor, something from beyond our profiles and performance ratings, comes in the form of a filly – the Moody and Coleman-trained Alma Rise turning up at just her third start and off a simple Pakenham maiden win.

Alma Rise isn’t about profile but about promise and Pakenham packed plenty of that. She was well ridden by Jamie Kah but responded by pouring it on, putting spaces through the field and stopping the clock sharpish.

Second and third have come out and won since and neither had been anything like a match at Pakenham. But this is more and it comes up soon. 

Only three have fronted up here at just their third start. Navarro Lad and Golden Authority were both eighth, but Wahine Toa was only a neck away in third in 2020.

He was beaten by Gai Waterhouse and her Sacramento; one who had the grounding and the gumption to ganbare – and Ganbare is what the Leger is all about.