THE country's oldest classic horse race could be on its way to York's Knavesmire following the massive success of Royal Ascot.

York Racecourse is in line to host the 2006 St Leger - if a redevelopment plan at Doncaster means that course has to shut.

Chiefs at the council-owned South Yorkshire course are close to agreeing a scheme to demolish one of the grandstands and rebuild it.

Once that project is finalised, the council will then have to decide whether the horse racing festival can be accommodated, or whether it needs to be moved.

It is thought a possible issue of asbestos in the stand may persuade the authority to find a temporary home for the September meeting for one year.

If that is the case, Ian Renton, Arena Leisure director of racing, told interviewers that York would be on the shortlist.

First run in Doncaster in 1776, the St Leger is the original "classic" race. The other classic races are The Derby and The Oaks, at Epsom Downs, and the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. The St Leger is the final classic to be held in the racing year.

York has hosted the race before, when as many as 200,000 spectators watched the 1945 race after it was moved from Doncaster during the war years.

Mr Renton said: "We hope to reach an agreement (with the council) in the next few weeks. But it is still early days.

"We then have to agree the plans - and then to decide whether or not we continue to race. If we decide that it is best to race elsewhere, we will be drawing up a list, and York would certainly be on that list."

James Brennan, marketing manager at York Racecourse, said: "What we have said consistently is that our organisation is run for the good of racing and we would look at any opportunities that further that cause.

"The St Leger is a significant race with a lot of quality horses and a lot of history around it, so a lot of the core reasons to have staged Royal Ascot would transfer across to stage the St Leger.

"There are still a lot of discussions to be had and Arena Leisure hasn't formally asked anyone. We are always interested in an exciting opportunity."

City of York Council leader Steve Galloway said: "Ascot has left everyone on a high and we are interested in having more major sporting events in the city.

"We will talk to Doncaster and anyone else who has something to offer the city."

Updated: 14:07 Monday, June 20, 2005