Aidan O'Brien hoping favourite Kew Gardens can spark famous St Leger double
Aidan O'Brien believes his two St Leger favourites, Kew Gardens and Flag Of Honour, can kickstart a strong autumn, with Ireland's perennial champion trainer targeting victory in the final two Classics of the season next weekend.
Such is the strength in depth at Ballydoyle that despite a bug disrupting the yard this summer, Order Of St George potentially missing the Irish St Leger and Capri going down the Prix Foy and Arc route, he still hopes to add to his haul of eight Group 1s in 2018 – starting next Saturday in the William Hill-sponsored Classic at Doncaster.
In 5-4 favourite Kew Gardens, O'Brien has a horse whose relaxed demeanour aptly matches his name, and the colt has already bloomed at the highest level this season when winning the Grand Prix de Paris in July.
Following that success, Kew Gardens went to the Great Voltigeur at York and, while only third in the 1m4f Group 2 behind Old Persian, he stayed on strongly and looks tailormade for the St Leger, for which he is the general 6-4 favourite.
"He should step up a good bit from York. We were delighted with his run," O'Brien said on Wednesday. "It wasn't ideal under the penalty, but we felt he had to run and that was the perfect race to give him his prep."
Unlike the undulations of Epsom, where Kew Gardens could manage only ninth behind Masar in the Derby, Doncaster offers a flat, galloping track, something O'Brien thinks will benefit the son of Galileo.
"We always thought Doncaster would suit him and hopefully the ground will be nice for him," the trainer added. "He had a disappointing run in the Derby and he disappointed us a little bit at Lingfield [in the Derby trial] when he got beat, so maybe he's a horse who likes a level track. He's very relaxed and has a great mind."
Kew Gardens could be one of four chances for O'Brien in the race, with Southern France, Nelson and The Pentagon all under consideration.
Southern France took in the Irish St Leger trial last time out at the Curragh, finishing third, and O'Brien is looking forward to the colt for the remainder of this season and beyond.
"He's a giant, a lovely big horse and he'll be an even better four-year-old," he said. "We were very happy with his run at the Curragh. There wasn't a very fast pace, which wouldn't have suited him as we were riding him back a little bit.
"We rode him back a little as it was his first run for a while and we didn't want him to get too tired. You can imagine Doncaster would suit him as it's a lovely flat track."
Slow ground at Doncaster next week would aid the chances of Nelson, who has finished behind Kew Gardens on his last three starts, most recently when sixth in the Great Voltigeur.
"He'll handle ease in the ground and stays very well," O'Brien said. "He'd probably stay further than the Leger trip."
Honour to fly the flag in Irish Classic
Next weekend promises to be a busy one for O'Brien in Britain and Ireland with the William Hill St Leger and Irish Champions Weekend, which features among its Group 1 highlights the Comer Group International Irish St Leger.
As with Doncaster, O'Brien is spoilt for choice among his team and he has the first three in the ante-post market. However, that could be subject to change, with hot favourite Order Of St George not a certainty to line up.
The six-year-old won his first two starts this season before finishing fourth to Stradivarius in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in June. He has not been sighted since, and O'Brien said: "I'm not sure he's going to make it. He's just feeling his age a little bit at the moment."
Stablemate Flag Of Honour, winner of his last two starts at the St Leger trip, including the Irish St Leger Trial last time out, is in line to try to claim the prize. His price collapsed to 2-1 (from 10) after the news that Order Of St George could miss out, although he is available at a general 5-1.
"When he went up in trip he was very comfortable at it and got it well," O'Brien said. "He's a very honest, straightforward horse."
On last year's Doncaster Classic winner Capri, who was also a potential runner, O'Brien added: "The plan is to go to France for the Prix Foy and then if that went well he might go back for the Arc.
"We're happy with what he's doing at the moment. He's been back in work for eight weeks and had a racecourse gallop last week."
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