Flag Of Honour comes to O’Brien’s rescue in Irish Leger

Skitter Scatter provides Prendergast and Whelan with first Group One at the Curragh

Ryan Moore on Flag Of Honour goes clear to win the Irish St Leger at the Curragh. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ryan Moore on Flag Of Honour goes clear to win the Irish St Leger at the Curragh. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Flag Of Honour saved Aidan O’Brien’s “Irish Champions Weekend” honour when giving the champion trainer a Leger double at the Curragh on Sunday.

Just over 24 hours after Kew Gardens landed the Doncaster version, Ryan Moore also did the steering on Flag Of Honour to score in the Comer Group Irish St Leger.

Victory for the 2-1 favourite prevented both a novel “Champions Weekend” Group One whitewash for O’Brien and also a rare domestic classic blank in 2018.  It had been 13 years since the world record-breaking trainer failed to win any of Ireland’s classics.

Despite purist suspicions of the Irish Leger’s claims to such status it was the three-year-old Flag Of Honour who impressively put that right, and by putting older rivals to the sword too.

That it was his son Joseph’s Irish Derby hero Latrobe who finished runner up to Flag Of Honour nevertheless provided a little bittersweet element to  O’Brien’s fifth success in the race. It must have felt in keeping with much of his fortunes during Ireland’s weekend racing showpiece.

Disappointment at Saxon Warrior’s Irish Champion Stakes defeat on Saturday paled in comparison to news of the colt’s retirement due to a leg injury sustained in the race.

A day later Ballydoyle’s top juvenile Anthony Van Dyck gave best to Godolphin’s Quorto in the Goffs National Stakes, and it was left to the outsider Hermosa to do best of O’Brien’s three Moyglare Stud Stakes fillies in third.

Hugely popular

A run of cross-channel success through the Group One prizes at “Champions Weekend” was instead interrupted by local Curragh trainer Patrick Prendergast, who supplied the Moyglare heroine Skitter Scatter.

Her victory as a 7-2 favourite was hugely popular as it gave both Prendergast and jockey Ronan Whelan the first top-flight wins of their careers.

Skitter Scatter had two lengths in hand on Lady Kaya – representing another of Irish racing’s smaller trainers Sheila Lavery – so the Leger represented a final Group One throw of the dice for O’Brien.  Flag Of Honour came up trumps however, making all for Moore to win with authority.

“He’s a hardy horse who handles at ease and stays well but has enough class for a mile and a half,” O’Brien said. “The way he picked up there you wouldn’t say he’d have to step up to extreme trips.”

Whether the new Irish Leger winner runs again this year is unclear, but O’Brien revealed Kew Gardens could tackle the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in three weeks’ time.

It is such an elite international agenda that’s now open to the Skitter Scatter team after completing a perfect progression through the ranks in the Moyglare.

After successes at Group Three and Two level, the American bred put a Group One stamp on a memorable season with a victory that was ultimately authoritative despite hitting a flat spot at half way.

“I was a little worried but she came good, and when she crossed the line she had plenty left. She’s a filly that keeps on giving,” said Whelan.

Prendergast was left pinching himself at his star’s rate of progress, and said: “I was worried because I felt it had been a long year for her. When she came we just wanted to win our maiden. She’s incredible in that she’s kept going and kept improving.  

“We’re a small yard and all my staff have worked incredibly hard with this filly. They’re all involved, and that’s the beauty of a small yard. I’m only a cog. I know it sounds like a cliché but without those people we wouldn’t be here.”

Skitter Scatter’s odds for next year’s 1,000 Guineas were cut to 20-1.

Length  

Quorto emulated his sire Dubawi with a National Stakes win that now sees him as an 8-1 second favourite for next year’s 2,000 Guineas. William Buick’s unbeaten mount travelled like the best horse through the race and had over a length in hand at the line.

The 11-8 favourite is the first Group One winning two-year-old colt by his sire, and trainer Charlie Appleby said: “He’s very much a Dubawi. He is the stamp of him, the way he travels through his race, his mentality. He’s showing a lot of Dubawi about him.

“He’s exciting. The Dewhurst is obviously the most logical route, but I’ll flag up that he is a Dubawi. If we needed to put him away for the winter that wouldn’t worry me at all, and we can live the dream until spring.”

Havana Grey broke a minute in winning the Derrinstown Flying Five from the fast-finishing Son Of Rest, and was one of three cross-channel winners on the final day of Curragh action.

Mick Channon’s Barbill led home a 1-2-3 for the raiders in the €300,000 Tattersalls Auction Race, beating the 6-4 favourite Flashcard by a half a length. It added to three wins for British-based runners on Saturday.

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