Stranger things have happened, certainly. But just as you could hardly have predicted the sort of dominion since established by the colt who planted his flag in the race last year, so you can only say that St Nicholas Abbey remains a perfectly feasible candidate for the 2010 Classics after winning the Juddmonte Beresford Stakes at the Curragh yesterday.
A year ago, Sea The Stars won by just half a length, with three others sharing a photo for second. His immaculate achievements since leave him hot favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, while his reputation was burnished anew at Ascot on Saturday when Rip Van Winkle, who gave him the hardest race of his campaign at Sandown in July, confirmed himself a top-class animal in his own right in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
St Nicholas Abbey won by three-quarters of a length from Layali Al Andalus, whose precise merit remains uncertain after disappointing on his only previous attempt at this level. But the winner betrayed little hesitation in making his own graduation, challenging smoothly under Johnny Murtagh before briefly running green. He then stretched out eagerly, pretty much on his own initiative, against a rival showing all the trademark determination of Mark Johnston's best horses.
In winning his maiden over course and distance so easily, after all, St Nicholas Abbey would not have learnt a great deal about his vocation. All in all, it was a cogent expression of all the loose talk that preceded him here, which was sufficient to see him backed down to 2-5 favourite. On the same basis, the son of Montjeu is now no better than 12-1 for the Investec Derby itself, with Coral, and as low as 8-1 in places.
Like Rip Van Winkle, St Nicholas Abbey is trained at Ballydoyle by Aidan O'Brien, whose familiar habits in the development of young talent entitle punters to hope that he can become an Epsom horse. Sure enough, O'Brien indicated that his 10th Beresford winner would proceed to Doncaster next month for the Racing Post Trophy; and should he happen to win that, then you can bet every last farthing that he would resurface in a Derby trial at Leopardstown next spring.
"He looks to be a Classic-type horse for next year," O'Brien assented. But much the same was being said a year ago about Rip Van Winkle, and a combination of his own delicate feet, and the fleet ones of Sea The Stars, demonstrates the sort of hazards yet awaiting even those of authentic Classic calibre. At all events, this one is in the right hands and, so far, he is doing all the right things.
Johnston may have missed out on the kudos, but he came away with the cash anyway after saddling another doughty juvenile, Shakespearean, to stem a series of late assaults in the Goffs Million Mile. He was all out to hold a pair of outsiders in Marfach and Nurture – whose trainer, Richard Hannon, had already reiterated his expertise in races of this type when Lucky General beat his stablemate, Full Mandate, in the Goffs Million Sprint.
Johnston speculated that he might just have had the best five minutes of his career after learning that Jukebox Jury had, likewise, scraped home in a Group One race in Cologne. Unbelievably, Jukebox Jury duly reinforced still further the epoch-making form shown by Sea The Stars in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes. He beat Rip Van Winkle a length that day, the pair four and a half clear of the subsequent King George winner, Conduit; and it was another nine lengths back to Jukebox Jury in sixth place.
Only a week left, then, for Sea The Stars to stay sound and the weather in Paris dry. The favourite's challengers may well include Dar Re Mi, despite connections' vexation over the failure of their appeal against the filly's eccentric demotion in the Prix Vermeille. Lady Lloyd-Webber, her owner, hopes that the episode might yet prompt the French authorities to reconsider their rules on interference, but sees no point in sitting out an Arc merely out of pique.
As for Rip Van Winkle, he will now try to emulate Raven's Pass last year by proceeding to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Between them, these colts have confirmed the place in the calendar of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, even if only four horses showed up this time. By the same token, the difficulty of merging this meeting with Champions' Day at Newmarket next month was elaborated yesterday when Mawatheeq's impressive success in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes prompted Marcus Tregoning to propose a crack at the Emirates Champion Stakes. Richard Hills, his rider, meanwhile went on to complete a 202-1 treble when Sayif won the John Guest Diadem Stakes.
Turf account Chris McGrath
Suba (4.0 Wolverhampton)
Superbly bred, still lightly raced for her new trainer, and looked capable of improving past this rating when fourth over an extra furlong at Goodwood last time, burning round most of the field before flattening out.
Mabait (5.0 Wolverhampton)
Can complete a double for Suba's connections, raised just 3lb for his recent display over course and distance, having been good value for his win after coming off the bridle early.
One To Watch
Alsace Lorraine (J R Fanshawe) did not get the breaks at Ascot on Saturday, short of room before flying into second. She remains likely to prove even better over 10f.
Where The Money's Going
Electrolyser is 11-1 from 14-1 with the sponsors for the Totesport Cesarewitch after his win at Ascot yesterday.Reuse content