Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Abbey worry for O’Brien

It is one thing for punters to get cold feet about St Nicholas Abbey, but the prices suddenly being quoted about his stablemate, Jan Vermeer, imply that a nervous tremor in the Investec Derby betting has quickly developed into an outright fit of hysteria.

Jan Vermeer is now as short as 13-8 favourite, while the odds available against St Nicholas Abbey suggest that his backers should be relieved even to get a run for their money on Saturday.

Aidan O'Brien, the pair's trainer, expects to put backers out of their misery either today or tomorrow, when the four colts who have dominated the ante-post market complete their preparations. Hot favourite since his stunning performance in the Racing Post Trophy last autumn, St Nicholas Abbey has become so leprous in the betting since disappointing in his work last Friday that his very participation would now seem to hang in the balance.

He was being offered at 11-1 on Betfair last night, having touched 20-1.

Even when he retained that air of invincibility, however, St Nicholas Abbey was never any shorter in the betting than Jan Vermeer is now.

With his impressive resumption at the Curragh the previous weekend fresh in their minds, punters hastened to back Jan Vermeer after Johnny Murtagh, the Ballydoyle stable jockey, professed alarm over St Nicholas Abbey's gallop upsides Midas Touch last Friday.

Renewed cash for Jan Vermeer yesterday — typically down to 7-4 from 5-2 with Totesport — suggested unanimity among punters that Murtagh will ride him at Epsom, rather than St Nicholas Abbey or Midas Touch.

O'Brien is understandably concerned with St Nicholas Abbey, who had always taken his breath away on the gallops. Should he decide over the next day or so that something is amiss, and scratch the colt altogether, he will almost certainly restore Cape Blanco — at present looking doomed to run at Chantilly on Sunday instead — to his Epsom team.

Regardless of his line-up's equine composition, his next big question is whether he can find a place for his former stable jockey, Kieren Fallon.

O'Brien's personal inclination may well be to reward Seamus Heffernan and Colm O'Donoghue for their dependable day-to-day contribution at Ballydoyle, but if his patrons at Coolmore Stud have been paying the remotest attention over the past week they will surely insist that Fallon be given precedence.

In the opening weeks of the season, Fallon struggled so obviously for rhythm that the notion he might retrieve “his” title from Ryan Moore began to seem poignantly fanciful.

Over recent days, however, something has palpably clicked. A change of agent has no doubt contributed, though perhaps the critical aspect of that decision (after 22 years) was in persuading Fallon himself that he really did mean business.

Watching him ride another treble at Goodwood yesterday, it seemed he had rolled back 10 years in 10 days.

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