Murtagh has faith in St Nicholas for Epsom

Jockey says favourite was unsuited by slow pace in Guineas and insists Derby has always been the target
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The Independent Online

As the dust started to settle around the weekend's first Classic markers of the season, two themes emerged. First, from the Ballydoyle camp, that faith should not be lost in Saturday's beaten 2,000 Guineas favourite St Nicholas Abbey and secondly, from most others, that a line should be drawn through the performance of any filly who raced down the centre of the track in Sunday's 1,000 Guineas.

St Nicholas Abbey, at even money the shortest-priced Guineas loser since Xaar finished fourth, at 10-11, 12 years ago, was hardly more than three lengths behind the winner Makfi, and doing his best work at the finish. Though his price for the Derby has lengthened, the Ballydoyle inmate still heads the market and remains the most charismatic contender for the Epsom showpiece.

Two days after the reverse his rider, Johnny Murtagh, is at ease with the Montjeu colt's prospects of capturing the Classic that has been his target all along. "The race in Newmarket really didn't go as I would have liked," he said, referring not to the result (that would be a case of the bleedin' obvious) but the way the contest was run.

The fractions for the first half of the race were slow and the undulating Rowley Mile, with a downhill stretch before a climb to the finish, is not the ideal track on which to find instant acceleration on a staying-bred horse against specialists over the eight furlongs.

"There wasn't much pace," explained Murtagh, "and it took me from two and a half furlongs out to the half-furlong marker to get him organised and running on an even keel. But I was quite happy with the way he stayed on up the hill."

It should probably be remembered that more Derby winners who also ran in the Guineas lost at Newmarket than won; there were 20 years between the most recent pair versatile enough to take both, Sea The Stars 12 months ago and Nashwan.

"I'd expect a big improvement the next time," added Murtagh, "our horses come on a lot from their first run to the next."

The 1,000 Guineas was a fairly unsatisfactory advertisement for the sport, not because of the stewards' decision not to let sentiment cloud the issue as they reversed the positions of Jacqueline Quest and Special Duty, split only by the width of one of their whiskers at the winning line, but because more than half the field may as well have stayed in their boxes.

They were the ones whose riders chose a direct route down the centre of the straight mile, where the rain-eased ground proved much softer than the strip on the stand rails occupied by the first five home. Sixth place went to Music Show, whose trainer, Mick Channon, spoke for many of his equally exasperated colleagues yesterday.

"What can you say?" he said. "Our filly won her race, but that's no consolation. We can't say we'd have definitely won the real thing, but it's blatantly obvious the draw favoured the stand side. But I'd still have Music Show over anything else in the race and I want to take them all on again to see which filly really is the best. And ours will take some beating."

Murtagh's remarks about removal of cobwebs from Ballydoyle inmates proved right on the mark at the Curragh yesterday when his mount Fame And Glory, last year's Derby runner-up and winner of the Irish equivalent, bounced back from a disappointing seasonal debut to capture the Group Three High Chaparral Mooresbridge Stakes by a comfortable five lengths from Recharge. He was O'Brien's 13th winner of the campaign, his best numerical start in five years.

The four-year-old, another by Montjeu, stamped his class on the mile-and-a-quarter contest with a furlong to run after his pacemaker, Dixie Music, set him a strong, even pace, and will return to the top level for the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the track later in the month.

Fame And Glory's year-younger stablemate, Famous, also progressed for a run under her girth in the other Group Three on the Co Kildare card, the Athasi Stakes, but was second-best on the day to progressive Lolly For Dolly from the Tommy Stack yard. The Oratorio filly, now two for two, will also be back for the next meeting, in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Turf account

Sue Montgomery's Nap

Premier Clarets (2.10 Newcastle)

The speedily bred colt from an in-form stable can give his Burnley-supporting owners some cheer on his debut.

Next best

Ivan's A Star (2.30 Bath) With more experience than any of his rivals and blinkers applied, today may be his day.

One to watch

Shamali (W J Haggas) travelled notably well at Newmarket on Saturday until running out of puff on his first run since July and looks on a fair mark.

Where the money's going

La Vecchia Scuola was backed yesterday to defy a 600-day lay-off in tomorrow's Chester Cup, 25-1 from 33-1 with Skybet.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Evening Sunset (4.30 Bath).

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