Those who are already hailing last season's star two-year-old Frankel as the second second coming in as many years may experience a frisson of unease after the latest instalment in the career of his predecessor. A year ago St Nicholas Abbey, too, was a short-priced favourite for the 2,000 Guineas after a glittering juvenile campaign and touted to pick up the celebrity baton from Sea The Stars, only to flop when push came to shove on the Rowley Mile.
After assorted post-race excuses for his performance that eventually proved to be it as a three-year-old. But such is the son of Montjeu's residual charisma that yesterday's reappearance at the Curragh was a matter of some moment. Regretfully for those who crave to see a champion and backed him to 4-11 favourite it was all too much of an action replay: anticipation, anticlimax, disappointment, excuses.
Or perhaps, if we're feeling generous, reasons. Despite the bright sunshine in Co Kildare the ground was, after rain, testing and, as St Nicholas Abbey's trainer Aidan O'Brien admitted beforehand, the colt's preparation for his assignment in the 10-furlong Alleged Stakes had not been particularly rigorous. "He was ready to come racing," he said, "but we've been gentle and kind to him at home."
St Nicholas Abbey, with Seamie Heffernan in the saddle, may have run out of puff as he came in nearly seven lengths behind the talented and versatile filly Unaccompanied, but was never better than his eventual uncompetitive third place, with 33-1 shot Cilium intervening.
O'Brien, though, was not downcast. "They didn't go that fast early and he was a little fresh and when they quickened in front at halfway he just got a bit tired; the ground was heavy enough for his first time back and it's hard enough to be peak fit at this stage if you're thinking about the rest of the season. But we've got him started and now we'll look forward."
St Nicholas Abbey's unenthusiastic-looking high head carriage, not untypical of produce of his sire, may have been a function of his ring-rustiness. But the attitude of the admirable Unaccompanied, whose last outing had been when beating all bar Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, cannot be faulted.
The strapping daughter of Danehill Dancer, who carries the colours of the Moyglare Stud Farm, has now achieved a status on the Flat that will be so valuable to her as a broodmare prospect and will revert to obstacles at next month's Punchestown festival.
"She's just such a lovely big genuine mare," said her delighted trainer Dermot Weld. "She did us proud at Cheltenham and we ran her today in the hope of some black type, and it has paid off handsomely."
For the Ballydoyle operation, there were better results before and after St Nicholas Abbey, with a pair who may yet prove high-level achievers this year. The Hennessy filly Sing Softly has a 1,000 Guineas – English or French – pencilled in after a businesslike defeat of colts in the Listed seven-furlong Loughbrown Stakes, and the Galileo colt Marksmanship, who holds Derby trial entries on both sides of the Irish Sea, made a winning debut against 18 rivals in the ten-furlong maiden.
Sing Softly made most of the running before quickening readily under Colm O'Donoghue, and has been cut to 20-1 for the Newmarket Guineas. "If she gets seven furlongs on this ground, she's sure to get a mile," said O'Brien, "and she'll be better on better ground." Behind Sing Softly, Glor Na Mara – who had ended his juvenile days by running a good third to Frankel in the Dewhurst Stakes – trailed in last. See above.
Doncaster: Hanagan and Fahey display cracking form
Cracking Lass lived up to her name when winning the Doncaster Shield and starring in a 584-1 treble for jockey Paul Hanagan and trainer Richard Fahey yesterday.
The four-year-old reversed November Handicap form with Times Up in emphatic fashion as she produced an 11-1 surprise in the feature race on Town Moor.
Moyenne Corniche made a bold bid to lead all the way and Brian Ellison's gelding dismissed hot favourite Times Up and Prompter, but could not hold Cracking Lass (far left), who went on in the final half-furlong to win by half a length.
Fahey and Hanagan struck first with Lord Aeryn (11-2) in the William Hill Home of Betting Handicap, and She's A Character (13-2) completed their trio.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Kilburn (3.40 Windsor)
Has improved since winning over course and distance in July, is race-fit and a repeat of his latest effort should suffice.
Silverware (4.10 Windsor)
Had three runs last year when he looked to have the scope to progress at three. Will be well suited by the step up in trip.
One to watch
Too keen in Doncaster's Spring Mile, Oriental Scot (W Jarvis) but finished well on the unfavoured side of the track.
Where the money's going
Comply Or Die, the 2008 Grand National winner, is 25-1 from 50-1 with Paddy Power for a repeat on Saturday.