After Aidan O’Brien slightly scaled down his overwhelming presence in Doncaster’s St Leger, the final Classic of the British Flat season has really taken shape over the last few days and was made all the more interesting by the supplementation of Ralph Beckett’s Simple Verse, who has swapped her original target in the Park Hill Stakes for a crack at the top level after her cosy win in the Lillie Langtry at Glorious Goodwood in July.
Although the Lillie Langtry probably wasn’t the strongest renewal, Simple Verse has an eye-catching upwardly-mobile profile, having improved on all of her six starts, and it is easy to see why connections have opted to pitch her in, seeing how she relished the step up to 14 furlongs at Goodwood. Further improvement is not out of the question for Simple Verse, but she will have to prove herself an exceptional filly to defy a drought in the race for her sex stretching back some 22 renewals.
O’Brien still holds a strong hand in the Leger, fielding three of the eight entries as he looks to add a third British Classic of the season to the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks that he has already won.
In truth, it is hard to separate his trio, with just 1lb separating Fields of Athenry (134), Bondi Beach (134+) and Order of St George (135p) on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings, with the short head that split Bondi Beach and Order of St George in the Curragh Cup in June reinforcing that point further still.
Both Order of St George and Bondi Beach are progressive, but it is the former who perhaps now holds the edge, after his visually-impressive win in the Irish St Leger Trial at the Curragh last month provided the ideal preparation for this race. Though Order of St George had little to beat that day, it was a stylish seven-and-a-half length success under a hands-and-heels ride, which perhaps rightfully led to him being slashed in price for the Doncaster Classic.
The Great Voltigeur Stakes, so often the key trial for the St Leger, was the choice of prep for Bondi Beach, and he duly built on his Curragh Cup success, perhaps a shade better than the half-length he went down to the winner, Storm The Stars, after being carried across the track in the final half-furlong and receiving a bump in the process. The amount that Storm The Stars found when he was challenged makes it hard to argue that Bondi Beach would have won without the antics of the winner, though, as proven in the past, defeat in the Great Voltigeur is no barrier to Leger success, and Bondi Beach’s claims are rock solid, perhaps slightly better than those of O’Brien’s final entrant, Fields of Athenry, whose hard race when fifth in the Ebor raises some concerns about this test just three weeks later.
The winner of the Great Voltigeur, Storm The Stars, narrowly heads the three O’Brien horses on Adjusted Timeform Ratings (136), as he remarkably contests his third Classic of the season, having previously placed in both the English and Irish Derbies. Storm The Stars was having his eighth start as a three-year-old at York last month and, significantly he produced a career-best performance, battling gamely to see off Bondi Beach. With the potential for more to come over this new trip, which looks very likely to suit, he remains the one to beat at Doncaster on Saturday, and would be a deserved winner, given his consistency throughout an intense campaign.
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