Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

In great Nic to emulate super Sea The Stars

The 2000 Guineas at Newmarket tomorrow will be a step towards greatness for St Nicholas Abbey, says Robert Fenton

Named after a sugar plantation in Barbados, St Nicholas Abbey looks sweet for the first Classic of the season, the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket tomorrow.

After the exploits of Sea The Stars last year, few thought they would see his like again in their lifetime.

But similar to buses, you can wait a long time for one to come along and then two often appear at once.

St Nicholas, a Montjeu colt trained by Aidan O’Brien for the money-magnate threesome of Dave Smith, John Magnier and Michael Tabor, has been hyped up as the next best thing — well, since Sea The Stars.

His reputation late tomorrow afternoon will either soar or the bubble will have burst.

Not that defeat will make him a bad horse — he is bred for distances in excess of a mile and the Derby is his number one target.

He will be a warm favourite to oblige, but only one market leader has won the opening Classic in the last 10 years and that was O’Brien’s George Washington four years ago.

Interestingly, Abbey has been entered in the Coral Eclipse 10 furlongs, which of course Sea The Stars also won in his unbeaten sequence of wins which ended with victory in the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe.

O’Brien suffered the frustration of having to chase John Oxx’s supreme champion all of last season and nothing would delight him more than to have something that can match or even surpass the mighty Stars.

St Nicholas Abbey heads a field of 19 tomorrow after being unbeaten in three starts as a two-year-old, ending with a comprehensive defeat of Elusive Pimpernel in the Racing Post Trophy last November.

Pimpernel complimented that form with an impressive victory in the Craven Stakes at Headquarters earlier this month and the John Dunlop team are confident he can take his revenge on an anticipated faster surface.

There is no doubt Montjeu progeny like to get their toe in and the expected 2-3 mm of rain today and tomorrow will be appreciated by the Abbey camp.

O’Brien also has the back-up team of Fencing Master and Viscount Nelson — with Kieren Fallon board — taking their chance and it won’t be forgotten that the Ballydoyle maestro is not unknown to win a Classic with the lesser fancied of his horses.

Remember that Rock Of Gibraltar beat the ‘good thing’ Hawk Wing in the 2000 Guineas eight years ago.

The Rock went on to win seven Group 1 races in total before becoming the subject of dispute between Sir Alex Ferguson and the Coolmore team over who owned Gibraltar when it came to stud rights.

It was one of the few battles Fergie has lost in his colourful career.

However, St Nicholas has the best form and should land the fifth 2000 Guineas in nine years for O’Brien. His other four were King of Kings (1998), Footprintsinthesand (2005), George Washington (2006) and Henrythenavigator (2008).

Richard Hannon is bullish about his speedy Coventry Stakes winner Canford Cliffs while Godolphin has Al Zir from Saeed bin Surroor’s yard and Buzzword is a first Classic runner for their number two trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni.

Mark Johnston relies on Middle Park Stakes winner Awzaan and multiple all-weather scorer Greyfriarschorista as he chases his first win since Mister Baileys in 1994.

But this race is all about St Nicholas Abbey and whether he can live up to the hype which has grown and grown.

Home gallop reports, and the silence from Ballydoyle, suggest that Abbey is primed and ready.

He has the world at his feet. Let’s just hope they are not leaden.

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