Horses To Follow » St Nicholas Abbey

St Nicholas Abbey

Putting up Sunday’s Juddmonte Beresford Stakes winner, the new 2010 Derby favourite, as one to follow doesn’t exactly portray much in the way of originality of thought, but the Aidan O’Brien-trained St Nicholas Abbey is worthy of inclusion here for a number of reasons. First, there is the manner and the style of his victory on Sunday. Settled nicely towards the rear in the early stages by Johnny Murtagh, he made nice progress through his field, arrived there on the outside at the two-furlong pole, then quickened impressively to take it up off Layali Al Andalus at the furlong pole before easing to the line, job done. Then there is his breeding, by Montjeu out of the Sure Blade mare who has produced Group 1 winners Aristotle, Starborough and Ballingarry, and his conformation. I wasn’t at The Curragh on Sunday, I have never seen him in the flesh, but he looked like a nice colt from the television, and reports from a couple of respected paddock-watchers on Sunday confirmed as much. There is also the regard in which he is obviously held at Ballydoyle, high enough to justify odds of 2/5 in a Group 2 race on Sunday, despite the fact that he was going into the race on the back of a mere – admittedly impressive – maiden win.

The Beresford Stakes is often a really good pointer to the following season’s Classics. Alamshar and Azamour both won it earlier this decade, and they both of course went on to be multiple Group 1 winners, Alamshar winning the Irish Derby the following year and Azamour winning the Irish Champion Stakes. Subsequent Dante winners Saratoga Springs and Septimus have won it, Eagle Mountain, subsequent Epsom Derby runner-up and Hong Kong Cup winner, won it in 2006 and, of course, Sea The Stars won it last year. This year’s renewal may not match up to last year’s, in which Mourayan and Masterofthehorse chased Sea The Stars home, but runner-up Layali Al Andalus is highly thought-of and was well fancied for the Champagne Stakes after winning his previous two races. The time of the race was disappointing on the face of it, more than two and a half seconds slower than the time that it took Shakespearean to cover the same course and distance in the Goffs Mile a half an hour later. However, the Beresford Stakes was run over the round mile whereas the Goffs race was run over the straight mile, which has a quicker standard time, so direct comparisons are not practicable. Also, the final two furlongs of the Beresford were really fast for a juvenile over a mile. It is difficult to take accurate times from a television screen at The Curragh, there is no path or marker on the actual track, you have to take comparative measurements from markers on the far side of the inside rail, and that can be difficult with different camera angles. However, James Willoughby in the Racing Post on Monday estimated that St Nicholas Abbey covered the last two furlongs in 21.9secs, which compares really favourably with the 24.2secs that Shakespearean took to cover the same distance (the final three furlongs are common to both tracks), albeit after probably setting faster fractions. This confirms that St Nicholas Abbey is not devoid of pace, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he could be a Guineas horse as well as a Derby horse. A lot can happen between now and Derby day next year but, on the evidence that we have at present, it is right that St Nicholas Abbey is Derby favourite. He is the most likely winner of the race at this stage, insofar as there is a most likely winner of a race eight months out. Whether 12/1 is value depends on your attitude to ante post betting, but if you were asked to lay him, you certainly wouldn’t want to be laying him at any bigger.

27th September 2009

© The Irish Field, 3rd October 2009