St Nicholas Abbey's brilliance may be a mirage – or a miracle

Doncaster winner now hot favourite to follow in Classic hoofprints of Sea The Stars
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Some may view all the excitement not merely as premature, but as a downright affront. Barely a fortnight after the retirement of Sea The Stars, racing already seems to have discovered an heir. Twenty years had divided us from the last colt capable of winning both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, in Nashwan; but apparently St Nicholas Abbey only needs to stay sound to have his name carved under that of Sea The Stars on both trophies.

Admittedly, the sport is not going to be taken terribly seriously by any fresh converts should it betray an excitable tendency always to salute the latest champion as the greatest. It is by no means unknown, after all, for the Racing Post Trophy to be won in eye-watering fashion by a colt who then disappoints in his Classic season – starting with Crowded House just a year ago. But the facts of the case are that St Nicholas Abbey is much farther along the road than was Sea The Stars at the end of his first campaign.

The suspicion is that St Nicholas Abbey beat a stronger field at Doncaster on Saturday even than those that measured the calibre of three recent Derby winners – Authorized, Motivator and High Chaparral – in the same race. And he did not just beat them. He eviscerated them.

True, by sparing Sea The Stars a Group One test of this type last year, John Oxx doubtless shored up the colt's mental and physical reserves for his Classic campaign. But St Nicholas Abbey is in the hands of another master, wholly comfortable with the business of turning an outstanding two-year-old into a Classic winner.

When the Montjeu colt matched Sea The Stars by winning the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh last month, it was easy to envisage Aidan O'Brien starting him next spring in a Leopardstown Derby trial. That has become the familiar route for the most favoured Epsom candidate at Ballydoyle. But his staggering display at Doncaster has changed all that, surely making it imperative for him to accompany his stablemate Steinbeck over the mile in the Stan James 2,000 Guineas.

For now the only caveat, aside from the random misfortunes that can always afflict a thoroughbred, is that he has yet to be tried on fast ground. Otherwise he looks copper-bottomed, generally just 3-1 in both the Guineas and Derby betting.

His emergence is a massive boost for Coolmore, after a trying year at the hands of Sea The Stars. Poor old Sheikh Mohammed. His chequebook is hardly an option with this one. Meanwhile, there is a filly in Luca Cumani's care who has suddenly become priceless despite four consecutive handicap failures. Cascata, a full sister to St Nicholas Abbey, cost her owner 95,000 guineas as a yearling. Perhaps the sheikh will have to make do with getting hold of his number.

With the Breeders' Cup still to come, and Ask beating Schiaparelli in a Group One at Longchamp yesterday, the final chapters of the Flat season are making it difficult to open a new book with the jumpers. There were corresponding signs of stage fright over the weekend. The champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, saw four hot favourites thrashed at Chepstow on Saturday, while yesterday Cappa Bleu made a disappointing start for Evan Williams in a novice chase at Aintree.

Cappa Bleu had been so impressive in the Foxhunters' Chase at Cheltenham that it seemed conceivable he might return as a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse. But at least the Festival's most striking winner, Dunguib, stuck to his script at Galway yesterday, brushing one flight but otherwise immaculate as he won a maiden hurdle in familiar style, tanking along on the bridle throughout.

His trainer, Philip Fenton, was suitably relieved. "That was excellent," he said. "A nice introduction to hurdles, and it'll be onwards and upwards from here. He'd probably settle better in a quicker-run race. He was far from a natural when he started but we schooled him over all sorts. We've no immediate plans, but the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse would be an obvious target." The sponsors now have Dunguib as short as 5-2 favourite, from 3-1, for the William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle back at Cheltenham in March. Again, it may all seem too soon. To some, the emergence of two horses like this in barely 24 hours, in their very different disciplines, might seem a mirage. But it just might be a miracle.

Turf account: Chris McGrath

Nap

Sircozy (2.40 Kempton)

Again set plenty to do last time, off a steady pace into the bargain, but the way he kept on for second confirmed that he is capable of winning a modest race off this kind of mark.

Next best

Tinaar (2.50 Lingfield)

A little disappointing last time, given that she had made such a good start to handicaps on her previous start, but remains unexposed and merits perseverance.

One to Watch

Total Command (Sir Michael Stoute) made significant progress from his debut when second at Newbury on Saturday, held up early before working his way into a clear second, not given a hard race.

Where the Money's Going

Tricky Trickster is 20-1 favourite from 25-1 with William Hill for the John Smith's Grand National.

Comments