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Homeracing

Order of St George, Air Force Blue romp at the Curragh

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

September 13th, 2015

Trainer Aidan O'Brien swept the three Group 1s during the second half of Irish Champions weekend Sunday, with Order of St George slamming older horses in the Irish St Leger (G1), Air Force Blue dominating the National (G1) for two-year-olds, and Minding upsetting stablemate Ballydoyle in the Moyglare Stud (G1), securing a spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).

Order of St George was originally in line for Saturday's St Leger (G1) at Doncaster, but O'Brien decided to reroute him to the Curragh. At the time, I wished they'd kept him in the English classic. Sure, the ground might ride a little softer in Ireland Sunday, but after his sensational display in the Irish St Leger Trial (G3), wouldn't he have been the pick of the Ballydoyle lot for Doncaster?

As it turned out, the Coolmore brain trust won the Doncaster St Leger anyway via disqualification, with Bondi Beach, and Order of St George duly turned the double for their sire Galileo on Sunday. The strategy certainly worked from Coolmore's business perspective. But from the perspective of merit, I think the lesser of the two colts won the more prestigious race. How far might Order of St George have won by at Doncaster?

After all, the Irish St Leger was a much tougher race versus older horses, and Order of St George just overpowered them. Under Joseph O'Brien, he bided his time near the back before adroitly advancing on the turn for home, and his sustained gallop was a thing to behold. He wasn't just stealing a march and holding on from pursuers -- he was steadily widening the gap on a solid group of older stayers. Order of St George pulled 11 lengths clear of Agent Murphy, a Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) candidate who was coming off a career high in the Geoffrey Freer (G3). The fourth-placer was Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) winner Second Step, and the fifth, Forgotten Rules, is the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) hero who was third in the Ascot Gold Cup (G1). You get the idea.

Order of St George thus ranks as an outstanding prospect for next season's Ascot Gold Cup. It's premature to tab him as the successor to Yeats, but he could stick around for a while in the staying division. And we haven't seen the best of stablemate Bondi Beach, who narrowly beat the returning Order of St George in the June 28 Curragh Cup (G3). Less seasoned than the Irish Leger romper, Bondi Beach still has plenty of upside. They should make quite a dynamic tag team for the Cups in 2016.

Before furnishing the replay, I must add a tragic postscript: the defending champion Brown Panther broke down irreparably at about the halfway stage. The seven-year-old homebred was campaigned by soccer, or English football, star Michael Owen, who expressed his grief upon losing "the toughest, most honest, most brilliant horse I will ever set eyes on..."

Aside from his 2014 Irish St. Leger triumph, Brown Panther's major wins included the 2013 Goodwood Cup (G2) and the March 28 Dubai Gold Cup (G2), where he rolled home as much the best in course-record time. He had been sidelined by injury over the summer, and this was his first start back. RIP, Brown Panther.

Irish St Leger:

 

Air Force Blue was similarly dominant in the National, where he was traveling best of all and smoothly drew off beneath Joseph O'Brien. Godolphin's Herald the Dawn, who had won the Futurity (G2) in his prior start, had no answer.

As a son of War Front, Air Force Blue would probably prefer quicker ground, so it's very reassuring that he coped perfectly well here. Indeed, he was at least as impressive here as in the August 9 Phoenix (G1). Now three-for-four, he suffered his only loss when second in the Coventry (G2) at Royal Ascot. That was surely a case of a big test coming a little soon, because he's a different animal now. The October 10 Dewhurst (G1) is likely next, and a clash with Godolphin's top prospect Emotionless.

 

The ground likely played a role in the Moyglare Stud, with Ballydoyle unable to duplicate her Debutante (G2) victory over Minding August 22. Again leading early, Ballydoyle began to tread water late, and Minding ground her way past for the upset. Alice Springs finished third to round out the Galileo -- and O'Brien -- trifecta.

Previously unbeaten Tanaza wound up fourth, and trainer Brian Meehan's well regarded Blue Bayou finished off the board for the first time in fifth, reinforcing the thought that the Moyglare form should be treated cautiously.

To be fair, Minding is surely progressing herself. Out of multiple Group 1 star Lillie Langtry (who was third in the 2009 Moyglare Stud), she could be bound for the October 9 Fillies' Mile (G1). Whether she takes up her berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf is another question.

 

Earlier at the Curragh, five-furlong kingpin Sole Power defied the unsuitable going to prevail over Maarek in the Flying Five (G2). Winless since finally scoring in Dubai in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night, the eight-year-old will now try to end his French frustration in the Prix de l'Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day, October 4.

In the Blandford (G2) for distaffers, Ribbons uncorked a last-to-first rally and outfinished Tapestry, who ran a terrific race to go down by only a half-length in her comeback from nearly a year off. Tapestry is sure to improve a bundle next time out for O'Brien.

The James Fanshawe-trained Ribbons was winning for the first time this season, but she had been third to Secret Gesture in the Middleton (G2) and also to Diamondsandrubies and Legatissimo in the Pretty Polly (G1) at this course and distance June 28. Only sixth as the defending champion in the August 23 Prix Jean Romanet (G1) at Deauville, the daughter of Manduro could head to Longchamp for the Prix de l'Opera (G1), in which she missed by a neck last year.

 

 

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