(Published September 8, 2018) – The St Leger, be it Irish or English, signals the firm knocking of autumn on the racing fans’ door.
It is the final Classic of the year over at Doncaster, but the Irish version at the Curragh differs quite significantly.
There it is a Group One contest open to horses aged three-years and up. It is run at the Curragh over a distance of a mile and six furlongs (2,816 metres), and is now part of the second afternoon of the excellently devised Irish Champions Weekend.
Having become an all-aged race back in 1983, the Irish St Leger has been graced by some excellent repeat winners and none more so than Dermot Weld’s Vinnie Roe. He made this race his very own from 2001 onwards, winning four straight renewals under the steady hands of Pat Smullen.
Order, By George
More recently the race has been dominated by Order Of St George, winner in two of the previous three years for trainer Aidan O’Brien and denied only by a slender and diminishing half-length in second behind Wicklow Brave in 2016.
His will be holding the outstanding claims once more should he be on site when the gates open on Sunday 15th September. Order Of St George hasn’t been spotted since weakening to finish four-lengths fourth behind Stradivarius in the Ascot Gold Cup in June. That will surely act as a deterrent for his supporters with this race in mind. In his three previous Irish St Leger appearances the son of Galileo has come through a mid-to-late August audition but they’ve all come in the Trial contest over the Curragh C&D and Order Of St George has won them with plenty to spare.
Aidan O'Brien on the chances of Order Of St George going for a hat-trick in the Irish St Leger: "I'm not sure he's going to make it, he's just feeling his age at the moment."
— Racing Post (@RacingPost) September 5, 2018
He is the owner of a splendid Curragh record though, with just two narrow defeats in seven starts at the Kildare track. Order Of St George has been friendless in the betting since his trainer suggested that he is “showing his age” and no longer a certainty to appear here.
That is factored into his price. Having been the odds-on favourite he’s now 5/2 with Skybet. If he turns up he won’t trade that big, but there are now massive doubts. Getting a non-runner-no-bet concession may prove tough.
Flying The Flag
The big market mover in the opposite direction as Order Of St George has eased has been stablemate Flag Of Honour, the 7/4 favourite with Ladbrokes.
A Group Three-winning juvenile last season, the Galileo colt has shown his liking for a searching stamina test as a three-year-old. He shaped with promise in three springtime outings in France but it is over the Curragh’s St Leger trip that he has come into his own.
He landed a Group Three over the C&D in early July, and last month he grabbed Order Of St George’s mantle by taking the Leger Trial. In that race Donnacha O’Brien’s mount was in front a long way from home, but he showed pure determination to stay out in front up the punishing home straight as he fended off Twilight Payment by a neck at the line.
Flag Of Honour (3c, Galileo – Hawala ,by Warning) wins gr3 Irish St. Leger Trial at Curragh
2nd Twilight Payment (Teofilo)
3rd Giuseppe Garibaldi (Galileo) pic.twitter.com/5ZLvcLRn8J
— MG (@WorldRacing007) August 25, 2018
He’s come down from double-figure odds to be favourite for this race with many firms now. What he isn’t – so far at any rate – is Order Of St George.
His Curragh wins have been decent but he lacks the experience and proven durability of his stablemate. For those reasons, he looks to be plenty short enough on the latest ante-post betting and doesn’t rank as the sort of horse to wade in behind. The Ballydoyle supremo described Flag Of Honour as an “honest, straightforward” horse recently, and that is a fair assessment.
Mulling Over Mullins
Figuring out what Aidan O’Brien might send here is a thankless sort of task. He’s got endless firepower and can hand-pick on any given day for a race of this nature.
So instead we’ll have to try and knit pick our way through the other Irish powerhouse yard, that of Willie Mullins.
The Closutton genius is of course more noted for his jumpers, but Mullins is no stranger to success on the Flat either. He landed this very race in 2016 with Wicklow Brave, denying hot-favourite Order Of St George with a fine ride from Frankie Dettori.
Mullins has also ramped up his pursuit of winners at the major Flat meetings over the summer season, with his record at Royal Ascot catching the eye. He has an impressive near 24% winning strike rate with his Flat stayers over the last two years.
As things stand he’s got five entered in the Irish St Leger. Whiskey Sour hasn’t really gone on from last summer’s Galway exploits and is avoidable in both codes these days.
Elsewhere, Mullins has what can only be described as ‘the usual suspects’ in the shape of Thomas Hobson and Max Dynamite. Neither hold a lot of secrets and they would both rank as decent outside chances if they appear here. The former ran a good race in the C&D trial last month behind Flag Of Honour and the likes of Giuseppe Garibaldi and Southern France from Ballydoyle.
Max Dynamite ran at York last month and seems less likely to show up in this race. Laws Of Spin (40/1 with 888Sport) meanwhile was given plenty to do in the Trial here last month from the rear of the field and might be able to improve on that effort.
Of the quintet that Mullins does have left in the race, one that might pique some interest at a big price is the lightly-raced French import Chelkar.
The Azamour gelding won three of five starts over much shorter trips for Jean-Claude Rouget in his youth. After transferring to Mullins’ team, he spent more than 600 days on the easy list.
He was anything but disgraced on his reappearance this summer at Royal Ascot over a stamina-sapping 2m4f trip in the Ascot Stakes (won convincingly by stablemate Lagostovegas). Finishing fourth was a fair start and it wasn’t any surprise to find Chelkar was made second-favourite for a valuable pot at the Galway Festival on his next start over 2m1f.
— Dubai Racing Channel (@DubaiRacingTV) June 19, 2018
That race was run on yielding ground (the softest he has encountered) and Chelkar barely travelled a yard for his apprentice rider. It might be as well to draw a line through that run.
Since then Ruby Walsh, no less, has mentioned Chelkar as one of a number of Closutton inmates that would need to get their ratings up in order to be considered as potential Melbourne Cup horses.
It was an interesting line from Mullins’ stable jockey, and given that Chelkar is 50/1 with Paddy Power he might be worth an interest in the hope that he turns up at the Curragh and gets decent ground to run on over a trip that should still be within his compass.
The British Challenge
Jeremy Noseda (Sans Frontieres), Mark Johnston (Jukebox Jury) and Tom Dascombe (Brown Panther) have all successfully exported this prize across the Irish Sea since 2010.
Ebor runner-up Weekender (8/1 with Coral) retains an entry in this race for John Gosden and is the shortest-priced of the British contenders. The Clarehaven handler hasn’t given any solid indication that his Frankel colt will be heading to Ireland and, in all probability, that price will hold if he does make such noises closer to race-day.
Two raiders that would likely shorten up significantly if this becomes a solid target are Algometer and Desert Skyline.
David Simcock’s Algometer has produced decent form in four starts this season, with his Longchamp run over 1m6f in July in a Group 2 the one that would entitle him to be of interest here.
Desert Skyline meanwhile is priced at 20/1 with William Hill and could easily outrun those odds in Ireland.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) May 18, 2018
The four-year-old has been chasing in vain after the £1m bonus-winning staying machine Stradivarius this summer. At Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and York last month, David Elsworth’s charge has wilted late on over trips at two-miles and more.
The closest Desert Skyline got to his illustrious rival was at York in May over this 1m6f trip on good to firm ground, when just three-lengths away in second spot. That was a commendable effort and Desert Skyline remains relatively unexposed over this trip. He would rank as a decent contender should his trainer bring him to Ireland.
Written by Enda McElhinney
Enda McElhinney is an Irish-based racing writer with an increasing portfolio of work on British and Irish racing. His daily routine is race-by-race form analysis, both on the Flat and over jumps. While the racing world must keep on turning, he is quite sure that no horse will ever pull at his heartstrings quite as much as the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Denman.