Chris McGrath: Abbey habit can kick in as St Nicholas aims for the Stars
Saturday 01 May 2010
No, it doesn't quite work, the London bus analogy. Not unless you happen to have seen consecutive Routemasters cornering Piccadilly on two wheels, dazed passengers strewn in their wake, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button at the wheel.
But you get the idea. We stood impatiently at the bus stop for 20 years until Sea The Stars came along; and yet here, apparently, we have another colt already on the same route.
The number on the front, admittedly, will discourage a lot of punters from boarding St Nicholas Abbey in the Stan James 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket today. Last year, Sea The Stars started 8-1 for his first Classic. One firm this morning is offering just 9-1 that St Nicholas Abbey emulates his unprecedented treble of Guineas, Derby and Arc in the same season.
His odds for today are no better than 5-4, even though many pundits are keen to oppose him over a mile on quick ground – pending possible rain overnight – on the first day of May, fully six months before the Breeders' Cup. Some have also got it into their heads to worry about his stable's quiet spring, or about the wild notion that Steinbeck had been featuring more prominently on its bush telegraph, prior to the setback that keeps him at home today.
Maybe they have tuned into a different frequency. The message being received here, loud and clear, remains unchanged from last autumn. Aidan O'Brien has trained Classic winners by the dozen, including five in this race, and privately discloses such awe about the relative capacities of this colt that his innate caution is compounded by a dread of tempting fate.
And we can all identify with that. We can all suspect ourselves of asking for the moon, in immediately hailing a possible heir to the epoch- making talent of Sea The Stars. The stakes, for the sport, seem almost too seductive.
At the same time, equally, we should not look a gift horse in the mouth. So let's deal with the doubts muttered about St Nicholas Abbey.
First and foremost, it is astonishing that respected pundits should be fretting about Ballydoyle's low-key start to the campaign, and the need to preserve fuel for a long road ahead. This is such a stale red herring. O'Brien never pulls up trees in April, but has dependably produced horses like George Washington to explode first time out at Newmarket. St Nicholas Abbey's every step since the Racing Post Trophy last October has been directed with this afternoon in mind.
People are also warning that winners of that race tend to prove middle-distance specialists at three. Agreed, St Nicholas Abbey should have no problem staying a mile and a half in the Investec Derby. Indeed, if this talk of reviving the Triple Crown were to gain momentum, he looks pretty certain to stay the Ladbrokes St Leger trip, too. But his Doncaster performance was about unadulterated speed. They did not go terribly fast early on, but he eased through the field as though hacking down to the start. Those who witnessed his only public appearance since, when he worked at the Curragh in March, would be amazed should he be outpaced at any stage today.
As for this notorious hiatus, between Nashwan and Sea The Stars, the bottom line is that very few Guineas winners in the meantime were bred to stay. Only two years ago, New Approach came within an ace of completing the double, pulling four lengths clear over the Rowley Mile to share a photo with Henrythenavigator. The emergence of Montjeu and Galileo as dominant young stallions has radically altered the assumptions and ambitions of Classic trainers.
In any case, who do you want to back against him? Elusive Pimpernel is the most decisive trial winner, while Al Zir is evidently considered the best three-year-old in his powerful stable. But these same colts were comprehensively outgunned when second and third in the Racing Post Trophy, and Elusive Pimpernel was slashed in the betting only after doing what his form and odds all but guaranteed in the Craven Stakes.
Awzaan warrants respect, as an unbeaten Group One winner, and looks more likely to stay than many recent Middle Park winners. But stamina is a big question for Canford Cliffs, who owes his reputation both on the track and at home to raw speed, and for Inler.
As so often in the past, the biggest danger to a Ballydoyle champion could instead come from closer to home. For a novice, Fencing Master ran a blinder when he came over for the Dewhurst last autumn – running down Xtension on the outside – and the extra furlong is certain to suit. That form has a solid look. Those looking for improvers on more speculative grounds, meanwhile, should consider big prices about Mafki and Lord Zenith.
All being well, however, most of his rivals are going to end up resembling big, clumsy, double-decker buses as St Nicholas Abbey glides into top gear. This could be one hell of a ride. All aboard!
Seta has talent to set golden seal on Fallon's comeback
It was hard enough for Kieren Fallon to pick between two fillies in the Stan James 1,000 Guineas. The rest of us must choose from 18. Fallon, moreover, always acknowledged his obligations to Luca Cumani, trainer of Seta, and his rejection of Music Show was not necessarily a definitive statement on their respective chances tomorrow. Even so, he may yet be rewarded for his fidelity. He has a genuine regard for Seta, suspecting that she was just too raw to complete the job after pouncing in the May Hill Stakes at Doncaster last September. Though she has been a little slow to bloom, Seta apparently did so persuasively in a racecourse gallop last week.
Music Show's trainer anticipates plenty of improvement for her trial success under Fallon, albeit you would hope so, as Blue Maiden was arguably unlucky. Perhaps a bigger danger is Rumoush, another to have set a tricky dilemma by winning at the Craven meeting. Sheikh Hamdan decided to drop her a furlong in a bid to emulate her half-sister, Ghanaati, in this last year. Rumoush did show plenty of speed but both her trainer and jockey had seemed disposed to step her up in trip instead.
Special Duty, the winter favourite, made a most discouraging resumption in soft ground last month, her first attempt beyond six furlongs. She must now build on the speed that set her apart last year. The each-way value is Devoted To You, but Seta can set an unforgettable seal on Fallon's comeback. It seems safe to assume he will be hard to beat, should it come down to a duel with Music Show.
Turf Account: Chris McGrath
Mark Anthony (4.40 Thirsk)
May well have been kept for this race, the conditions of which suit him, having clicked when dropped to this trip on his third and final start in juvenile maidens.
Swilly Ferry (4.15 Newmarket)
Looked to have built on the foundations he laid at two when unlucky not to finish closer than fifth over course and distance on his comeback.
One to watch
Anne Of Kiev (J R Gask)
Again suggested a sixth furlong is suiting her well when trapped on the bridle throughout the critical stages of a handicap at Windsor on Monday.
Where the money's going
St Nicholas Abbey
Was all the rage on the eve of the Stan James 2,000 Guineas, Ladbrokes going evens from 11-8.
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