Kew Gardens will lead a four-strong Aidan O’Brien team into battle in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger at the Curragh.
It is 12 years since the master of Ballydoyle first claimed the Irish Classic with the mighty Yeats, and he has has since added to his tally with Septimus (2008), dual winner Order Of St George (2015 and 2017) and last year’s victor Flag Of Honour.
Kew Gardens is chasing his second Classic success on Sunday, having won the St Leger at Doncaster on this weekend 12 months ago.
The son of Galileo has made just two competitive appearances so far this season – suffering an odds-on reverse in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester in early May before being touched off by Defoe in the Coronation Cup at Epsom a few weeks later.
O’Brien said: “Kew Gardens is in good form. He went a little bit wrong on us, so we had to stop with him. He is back in good shape and is ready to start.
“He stays very well and gets a good trip. We were looking forward to going for the Gold Cup with him this year, because we thought he was a tailor-made Gold Cup horse.
“I would think he would get further than two miles, and I don’t know if he would be quick enough for the Melbourne Cup.”
Southern France – winner of the Irish St Leger Trial over the course and distance last month – has been supplemented to make what is set to be his final start for O’Brien, having been sold to continue his career in Australia with Ciaron Maher and training partner David Eustace.
Capri and Cypress Creek complete the Ballydoyle quartet.
Joseph O’Brien has three contenders, with last year’s Irish Derby hero Latrobe joined by Twilight Payment, who makes his debut for the yard after signing off his stint with Jim Bolger in the Curragh Cup at the end of June.
The home team is completed by Dermot Weld’s Irish Oaks fourth and Galtres Stakes winner Search For A Song, while Charlie Appleby’s Cross Counter and the Sylvester Kirk-trained Salouen have made the journey from Britain.
Cross Counter became the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup last November and has done little wrong since – winning the Dubai Gold Cup in March before running with credit behind star stayer Stradivarius in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and the Goodwood Cup.
Appleby said: “He’s a horse who always travels well during his races, and I think coming back to a mile and six (furlongs) will suit him.
“He’s run two very solid races since he came back to Europe – finishing fourth in the Gold Cup and third at Goodwood. If he brings that level of form to the table on Sunday, he’s going to be a major player.
“I’m hoping for a good run, and hopefully it will be nice springboard before going back to Melbourne.”
The high-class Salouen steps up to a mile and three-quarters for the first time in his career. Kirk’s stable star was last seen finishing fourth behind Enable in the King George at Ascot in July.
“He’s in great form, and we’re looking forward to stepping him up in trip. We probably should have tried it before now,” said Kirk.
“It’s a good race, and we’re taking on the O’Brien battalion. This is the grade we’re at, so we’ll see how we go. I wouldn’t mind a lot of rain coming from nowhere.”
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