O'Brien lines up strong team for St Leger assault
Despite lacking a middle-distance campaigner of note this term, Aidan O'Brien is responsible for 16 of the 29 entries that have been unveiled for Doncaster's Ladbrokes St Leger.
The total figure is the smallest in recent years to go forward for the season's final British or Irish Classic.
With John Gosden's Derby one-two Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs since distinguishing themselves at 10 and 12 furlongs courtesy of their respective triumphs in the Eclipse Stakes and Irish Derby, O'Brien could yet field a numerically strong delegation in an effort to exploit their absence in the September 12 Group One.
He has already won the game's oldest Classic four times, and his initial list of Town Moor contenders, which represents 55pc of the entries, is headed by the Epsom fourth and Curragh third, Giovanni Canaletto. A 14/1 shot in the sponsor's ante-post market, Giovanni Canaletto is preceded on Ladbrokes' book by two stablemates, the Curragh Group Three winner Bondi Beach (12/1) and Aloft (8/1).
Should Aloft line up in the one-mile-six-furlong contest, he would be bidding to emulate O'Brien's latest St Leger hero Leading Light. Both horses won the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot, albeit the two-miler was a Group Three in 2013, as opposed to being just a Listed race this year.
Last week's facile Leopardstown winner Fields Of Athenry (20/1) is also engaged, as is the French Derby runner-up Highland Reel. William Haggas' Storm The Stars is a general 5/1 market leader to build on his third at Epsom and second at the Curragh, while Gosden, also a four-time St Leger winner, has the second favourite in the shape of the recent Newmarket scorer, Mr Singh.
Intriguingly, last weekend's Irish Oaks heroine Covert Love (10/1) has also been put in, raising the possibility of her emulating User Friendly, which in 1992 became the only filly to win the Curragh fillies' Classic and the St Leger. Jessica Harrington's Irish Oaks runner-up Jack Naylor has also been given the chance to take part, with Dermot Weld's Radanpour and Jim Bolger's Morning Mix completing the potential Irish delegation.
Many of O'Brien's St Leger entries have the option of either the Great Voltigeur Stakes or the Ebor at York next month. Following the publication of the weights for the Ebor, Aloft (8st 10lb) and Bondi Beach (8st 12lb) are among 10 that vie for the ante-post market lead at odds of up to 16/1. However, it was Fields Of Athenry (9st 2lb) that was the big mover yesterday, being slashed from a high of 25/1 to as low as 10/1 outright favourite with Paddy Power.
Also included among the 10 are Tony Martin's Quick Jack (9st 1lb) and the Willie Mullins duo of Clondaw Warrior (8st 9lb) and Max Dynamite (9st 7lb), with 26 of the 115 Ebor entries Irish-based.
At around 5/1, Quick Jack heads the betting for next week's €300,000 Guinness Galway Hurdle. His closest market rival is Hidden Cyclone (10/1), which is poised have its first outing over flights for more than four years off a mark that is 20lbs lower than his chase rating. John 'Shark' Hanlon's 10-year-old has just 10st 3lbs as things stand, having warmed up with a smooth win on the Flat at Leopardstown.
"He has come out of Leopardstown in super form and he has a lovely weight on his back in the Galway Hurdle," Hanlon said yesterday. "I think he goes there with a big shout.
"Brian Hayes will ride him. Brian has been riding great and he only has a few winners left of his 3lb claim."
Clondaw Warrior is another to the fore in the Hurdle betting, but he also now appears among 35 entries for the Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders' Handicap on the opening night. Mullins' Royal Ascot hero would have close to top-weight should he line out in the prestigious Ballybrit two-miler.