Kew Gardens has been running over too sharp a trip in two previous starts this season, so is taken to bounce back in the 1m 6f Group 1 Irish St Leger at The Curragh on Sunday (16:10).
Trained by Aidan O’Brien, who has won three of the last four renewals, the son of Galileo progressed last season when stepped up in distance.
Kew Gardens was far from disgraced on his first three starts of the campaign, including when ninth in the Epsom Derby. This trip and the Group 2 Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot really brought the best out of him.
The four-year-old, who won over 10 furlongs beating Dee Ex Bee as a juvenile, relished a stayers’ test when readily beating Southern France by 4 1/2 lengths in Berkshire.
That proved to be a key piece of form as the pair finished first and third in last year’s English St Leger at Doncaster.
Prior to that, Kew Gardens took the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp before running a fine third under a penalty in the Great Voltigeur at York.
Although the re-opposing Cross Counter finished about 1 1/2 lengths in front of him that day, he now meets that rival on 2lb better terms.
Kew Gardens was far from disgraced when back over in France on his final start of the campaign.
Needed further than recent runs
He was nearest at the finish when beaten four lengths into seventh behind wonder mare Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Given how he had excelled over further, a stayer’s campaign looked the logical thing for connections to do with Kew Gardens this term.
That hasn’t happened. Kew Gardens shaped as though badly needing the run on very soft ground in the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester’s May Festival when beaten eight lengths by Morando. He reversed the form next time up.
Kew Gardens was then held half-a-length in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom when unable to match the pace of Defoe.
The winner went on to land the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, so the form isn’t too shabby. However, neither of those races were a true test of Kew Gardens’ stamina.
He is sure to get that here and has since been given a mid-season break to rehab a small muscle injury.
If back to his best and treated on the pick of his form, Kew Gardens is worthy of his top official rating of 119 in the Irish St Leger.
As the clear pick of the Ballydoyle quartet, he is 11/4 with Unibet to resume winning ways.
Globetrotting Cross Counter feared most
The obvious danger is Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter, who has since scored more international success and run in the top staying races in Britain.
Trained by Charlie Appleby for powerful owners Godolphin, the four-year-old gelding only has 1lb to find on Kew Gardens on official figures.
Cross Counter burst onto the scene when smashing the course record at Glorious Goodwood last year in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes.
He was then a gallant runner-up to stable companion Old Persian when denied by a head in the Great Voltigeur.
As mentioned above, Cross Counter finished ahead of Kew Gardens that day but is now 2lb worse off at the weights.
Ineligible for the English St Leger, he went Down Under to Flemington for the Melbourne Cup instead.
Cross Counter was value for than the winning margin of a length because he was twice denied a clear run.
The speed he showed when flying past Marmelo, who has since won twice, was seriously impressive in Australia.
Cross Counter also scored another big race success abroad with a comfortable 1 3/4 lengths victory in the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan.
He then tried the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, but the marathon 2m 4f trip stretched his stamina. Cross Counter was never able to get on terms with champion stayer Stradivarius and could only finish fourth.
As the winner has since confirmed the form when landing the Goodwood Cup, there are questions to answer.
While Cross Counter looks sure to be suited by the drop back in trip here, multiple O’Brien entries mean this is likely to be a true test of stamina.
Although respected on his globetrotting exploits, there are reasons to take Cross Counter on here despite odds of 100/30 with William Hill.
Southern France each-way value after Irish St Leger Trial win
Kew Gardens’ long-time rival and stable companion Southern France has never beaten him, but run well in defeat behind him more than once.
If treated on that form from last season, and turning up in the same shape as his Irish St Leger Trial win over course and distance last time out, then his claims of making the frame are obvious.
Like fellow Ballydoyle inmate Kew Gardens, there have been times this season when connections look to have been racing Southern France over too sharp a trip.
The four-year-old ran second and third at Royal Ascot and in the English Leger last term.
After shaping as if needing the run but only beaten a length by the re-opposing Master Of Reality on reappearance at Navan, Southern France chased home Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup.
That was a fine effort, but he was then dropped in trip for the Hardwicke Stakes where he finished a fading sixth.
Southern France was then turned out far too quickly to be at his best over this course and distance in the Group 2 Curragh Cup just six days later.
When you consider the tight turnaround time, he didn’t run as badly as the bare form of going down by 3 1/4 lengths into fourth behind re-opposing pair Twilight Payment and Latrobe suggests.
Southern France finished a head in front of subsequent Ebor Handicap hero Mustajeer.
Although then a nine-length fourth to Stradivarius at Goodwood, he resumed winning ways in the Irish St Leger trial last time out.
A repeat of that assertive two-length victory puts Southern France in the mix here at 7/1 with Betway. It would be no surprise to see him run into a place.
Master Of Reality the pick of Williams trio
Lloyd Williams, one of the major owners backing young trainer Joseph O’Brien, has three in the Irish St Leger this year and assessing them is tricky.
Last year’s Irish Derby hero Latrobe has never quite seen this extended trip out in previous attempts.
Curragh Cup victor Twilight Payment, meanwhile, is a recent purchase and has since moved from Jim Bolger’s stable to O’Brien junior.
As a six-year-old, the gelding is also the oldest in the line-up and looks vulnerable to younger horses despite winning his last two.
Master Of Reality landed the Vintage Crop for connections on reappearance, but hasn’t scored since.
That doesn’t quite tell the full story with this four-year-old Frankel gelding, however, as he ran the race of his life to be third in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
He was beaten a length by champion stayer Stradivarius in that ultimate stamina test. Master Of Reality just lost out on out second on the line to Dee Ex Bee when sent off at 66/1.
An attempt to make all in the trial for the Irish St Leger under a penalty backfired last time out, however.
Master Of Reality was headed a furlong-and-a-half from home and made no impression on Southern France.
This is tougher, but a repeat of his Gold Cup exploits – where he was home ahead of Cross Counter – mean Master Of Reality cannot be totally discounted.
He is 16/1 with BetVictor for the Irish St Leger and the pick of his owner and trainer’s trio.