Master Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has revealed his thoughts as he holds the key to one of the weakest Ladbrokes St Legers for many years at Doncaster this Saturday.
Only eight horses are set to go to post for the world’s oldest Classic. Two of those, PROPOSED and French raider VENGEUR MASQUE, are considered no-hopers. Another, mud-loving MEDRANO, faces a stiff ask unless the heavens open. And another, SIMPLE VERSE, has been supplemented as an 11th hour after-thought, although she is respected as a progressive filly sure to stay the 1m6f trip..
So it’s hardly surprising that the focus of attention is on O’Brien, who saddles almost half the field in BONDI BEACH, ORDER OF ST GEORGE and FIELDS OF ATHENRY.
All three are fast-improving, lightly-raced colts tackling a race so lacking in quality that not one of the eight runners has won a Group One race. Indeed only the likely favourite, STORM THE STARS, has even landed a Group Two.
Little wonder that while the four-day Leger Festival at Town Moor continues to thrive, the £650,000 Leger itself is fast losing its lustre, with the flagship day of the meeting in serious danger of being usurped by Irish Champions Weekend for the main Saturday headlines.
William Haggas’s Storm The Stars brings easily the best form to the Donny table, having been placed in both the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby and going on to win the most important Leger trial, the Great Voltigeur at York last month.
But he has endured a long and hard season, and the York contest was such a gruelling slog on softish ground that he might not be razor sharp for this. He was also lucky to keep the race after hampering the runner-up Bondi Beach who, with more improvement in him, must surely be fancied to reverse the placings on Saturday.
Nevertheless, trainer’s wife Maureen Haggas insists: “Storm The Stars is a tough sort. We don’t do much with him at home as he isn’t a horse that likes going to the gallops. Early on, he wasn’t very well behaved and looked like he needed more education, so we kept running him to try and make him a bit more professional and bring him on. It doesn’t appear to have done him much harm.
“Hopefully, the step up in trip to 1m6f will improve him, but you never really know until you actually go and do it. The signs are that he should be a better horse over a bit further, but it is the end of a long, hard year and he has given us everything so far. If we could get one more big run out of him, that would be great, but he doesn’t really owe us anything.”
Bruce Raymond, racing manager for Storm The Stars’ owner, Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum, added: “I think Storm The Stars is an ideal horse for the Ladbrokes St Leger.
“I would be surprised if he doesn’t stay well. He is a bit one-paced, as most of them are, but he is a Classic horse, with a second and third in two Derbys. So he is a proper horse for the St Leger.”
So what of O’Brien’s trio? The market suggests Order Of St George, hugely impressive winner last time, is the one to be on, although he was edged out by Bondi Beach when they clashed at The Curragh in June. Fields Of Athenry was all the rage after two midsummer victories at Leopardstown and hardly blotted his copybook when given an impossible task from a mammoth mark and a wide draw in the Ebor Handicap at York
The trainer said: “Bondi Beach ran very well in the Great Voltigeur. We wanted to get a run into him and I was delighted with his performance.
“I think he is a horse that likes Good ground and the better the ground, the better it should suit him. He is good-moving horse. Good ground or better would really suit him well and I have been very happy with him since York.
“Order Of St George had a bit of a setback around Derby trial time. He was due to go Lingfield for the Derby trial, instead of Kilimanjaro, but got a temperature. We had been very happy with him up until that point.
“I was very happy with him at The Curragh last time and the ease in the ground suited him. He won very nicely. He also has form on fast and Good ground and I think he is one of those horses that can handle anything.
“Fields Of Athenry was drawn very badly in the Ebor last time and was a bit slow away. He is a horse that likes to bowl along and it took him a while to get to the front. Given his wide draw and big weight for a three-year-old, it was a good performance to finish fifth in a very competitive handicap. He kept going and will be back to level weights on Saturday.
“I am not sure if Joseph (O’Brien) will be riding any of them, as it is possible he will stay at Leopardstown that day to ride Gleneagles in the irish Champion Stakes. We have not made a final decision. Seamie (Heffernan) and Colm (O’Donoghue) will be available and, with not many runners in the St Leger, there should be no shortage of jockeys. Seamie has won on both Bondi Beach and Order Of St George, and Colm knows them well too.
“The three horses all have different profiles, and it is hard to say which will be best on Saturday. Bondi Beach came out on top by a short head when he met Order Of St George at The Curragh of fast ground in June but that was Order Of St George’s first run in a long time. On the other hand, Seamie wasn’t hard on Bondi Beach that day, so I don’t think there is much between the two.
“They both handle Good ground and we know that Order Of St George will cope with softer ground if there is any rain. Fields Of Athenry will run very well I think, as he is a tough horse and ran very well in the Ebor at York.
“You would think all three would have big chances. Hopefully, they can all run big races.”
Quite frankly, it would be no surprise to see the Ballydoyle trio fill the first three places.