Tuesday, April 27, 2010

St Nicholas Abbey

St Nicholas Abbey

In 1627, the British Navy colonised the Caribbean island of Barbados. At the time, most dwelling houses on the island consisted of locally-felled timber; this was not the case for the magnificent three-storey sugar plantation mansion belonging to George Nicholas. The house was made from bricks and limestone, a mahogany tree-lined avenue led up to its doors and its expansive gardens offered peace and a haven from busy island life. It was from this spiritual essence that the mansion was called “St Nicholas Abbey”.

At the Tattersalls October Yearling Book 1 Sale in 2008, a bay yearling colt was bought by Demi O’ Byrne on behalf of John Magnier. Sold on behalf of Oaks Farm Stables, the yearling was out of Montjeu and Leaping Water. Magnier named the colt St Nicholas Abbey, he is currently trained by Aidan O’ Brien and remains unbeaten after three starts. He holds the mantle of stable star at Ballydoyle and is a very short-priced favourite for both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. St Nicholas Abbey was also last season’s champion two year old. He won his maiden in impressive style over a mile at the Curragh by a widening four lengths. Quickly stepped up to Group 2 Company, he then took the Juddmonte Beresford Stakes over a mile again at the Curragh, staying on gamely in the finish at cramped odds of 2/5f.

O’Brien then upped the colt in class again, this time to Group 1 Company where he contested the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. As many punters know, this race is a proving ground for Derby winners with three of the last eight winners, Authorized, Motivator and High Chaparral, all subsequently winning the Derby. In the Racing Post Trophy, the colt was given a very confident ride by Johnny Murtagh, he was stone last two furlongs from home but sluiced through gaps in the field and was already in front a furlong out. He went on to win in effortless style, the race simply settled in a matter of astonishingly quick strides. He did in fact run the two furlongs in around 22 seconds; this was an exceptional time on ground that was officially Good to Soft. He was a very popular winner on the day, backed into 13/8 favourite from an opening show of 2/1; indeed these may well be the largest odds he can be backed at in his career.

Following his electric display at Doncaster, the horse was then put away for the winter, three races in three months, August, September, October, a maiden, Group 2, Group 1. Job done.

At a recent stable tour of Ballydole, Aidan O’ Brien was quick to praise St Nicholas Abbey noting “he has an excellent temperament and has always been incredibly natural in everything he does”. O’ Brien may have 150 horses in training at his world-class Rosegreen facility but none have wintered as well as the 3 year old colt who he has noted “matured in all the right places”. Opinions about the colt were widely unanimous with the British Horseracing Authority handicapper Matthew Tester describing St Nicholas Abbey as "a really significant champion".

The colt is also the first Racing Post Trophy winner to top the handicap classifications since Celtic Swing in 1994; Tester awarded St Nicholas Abbey a rating of 124. It may also be worth noting that this rating is greater than that of previous winners of the race, Authorized, Motivator and High Chaparral, all of whom went on to win the Derby, all who were in the 116-117 bracket.

St Nicholas Abbey is by Montjeu who has an exceptional strike rate with middle-distance runners. Leaping Water; the dam of St Nicholas Abbey was unraced, in 1993 she was sold for 3,200 guineas at the Tattersalls July Sale. Leaping Water was by Sure Blade who won a QEII over a mile. St Nicholas Abbey’s granddam Flamenco Wave was a top class two year old, winning the Moyglare Stakes for John Oxx. She has been a major success at stud, becoming dam of Group 1 winners Starborough (by Soviet Star), Aristotle (Sadler’s Wells) and Ballingarry (Sadler’s Wells).

If you are searching for a negative, there is one, concerning of all things, his foaling date. If St Nicholas Abbey (born on April 13, 2007) were to win at Newmarket on May 1st, he would become the latest-foaled winner of the 2000 guineas since Lester Piggott aboard Rodrigo de Triano in 1992. There are of course, exceptions to every rule and St Nicholas has the speed, stamina and ability to buck most trends.
As was much publicised, last year, Sea The Stars became the first horse since Nashwan in 1989 to complete the Guineas-Derby double. St Nicholas Abbey has already surpassed what Sea The Stars achieved at two, he has huge talent and potential and a blistering turn of foot. The positives are topped up by reports from Ballydoyle that he is working very well at home.

There is no question that Aidan O’Brien and his team will have him primed for May 1st at Newmarket when the first leg of that double should be achieved.

Then we will talk about a Triple Crown.


2 pts win for 2000 Guineas @ 7/4
2 pts win for Epson Derby @ 2/1
1 pt win double for 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby @ 15/2

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cheltenham Highlights

Dunguib defeat starts bookies’ bonanza

Dunguib is, as you may know by now, named after a townsland in the Parish of Killenaule, Co. Tipperary. (Cooldine is named after a different townsland in Killenaule but that’s a story for another time.) Dunguib of course, was the leading Irish hope for the Cheltenham Festival and his 1¾-length defeat in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the hands of Menorah and Get Me Out Of Here was the first blow in a week long bloodbath for favourite backers. Such was the one-sided nature of the results in favour of the bookies that William Hill estimated that a profit of €65 million was made across the Festival. This was aided by the fact there were just four winning favourites from 26 races, a ratio of just 15%, low even for Cheltenham.

In the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle alone, Paddy Power cleared €5 million when Dunguib finished third. That’s enough for a brand new shamrock-green, 8-seater Lear Jet with enough change left over to staff and run it for two years. Much was made of the defeat of Dunguib, but there was no real mystery. The simple facts are that he ran on ground that was not ideal, he was far from fluent at the third hurdle, then he hit the fifth hard and ran wide. He was under pressure up the hill and was beaten by two good horses in a cut-throat championship race. This happens, time and time again, and his starting price of 4/5 was far too short given his jumping. It was Plato who said “A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.” Paddy Power put this into practice.

Dunguib will now head for Punchestown, he may be a price on the day and he is very capable of beating the best novices and senior hurdlers around. Brian O’Connell will keep the ride at Punchestown, the right choice. Philip Fenton insists, O’Connell, still only 23, does not have to make amends for anything that happened in Cheltenham. Any Dunguib doubters may well be silenced after either the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle or the Rabobank Champion Hurdle when the hills around Killenaule will be smiling.

Paddy makes his own parade

6,000 scarves is a lot of scarves. That’s how many Kauto Star- and Denman-themed neck warmers were sold in the run up to the Gold Cup according to Rebecca Morgan, commercial and operations manager at Cheltenham. Never mind the 6,000, there were six other scarves worn on Gold Cup Day, black and white ones adorning the six strong syndicate, Our Friends In The North, in the colours of Imperial Commander.

Our Friends In The North trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and jockey Paddy Brennan paid no heed to the marketing spin that had been accelerating since Christmas, the blue riband duel, the showdown between Kauto and Denman. The rematch between the former Gold Cup winners, the hype, it really didn’t matter, Twiston-Davies said his lad was “a ball of muscle” and he could not have prepared him any better. Should more attention have been paid to this comment, made by a man who has trained over 1000 National Hunt winners and two Grand Nationals?

Our Friends In The North, like many syndicate owners, have their own setbacks, theirs was in 2004 with the death of useful hurdler Bobby Dazzler following a training yard accident where he slipped and broke his pelvis. They used Bobby Dazzler’s insurance money to acquire Imperial Commander who was bought for £30,000 in 2005. The horse soon became a Cheltenham specialist, winning four chases from five at the track – beaten only when trying to win his third race in two months before subsequently being laid off for a year with a back injury. His first race back was the Paddy Power Gold Cup, which he duly won; he then beat odds-on favourite Voy Por Ustedes to win the Ryanair Chase at last year’s Festival.

This season, Imperial Commander’s battling run in the Betfair Chase last November, where he went down by a nose to Kauto Star, was followed up by a sixth place in the King George where Kauto, at his brilliant best, beat him by a total of over 63 lengths. He hit the second fence badly that day so could possibly be excused. With this run behind him, he was a general 8/1 chance for the Gold Cup, largely considered an each-way chance. Paddy Brennan said the day before the race that he “wouldn’t ride anything else”. John Francome presented a television feature where he cantered on Imperial Commander and was highly impressed by the horse’s tone and balance, describing him as “half-way between Kauto Star and Denman”. Francome was getting the best of both worlds, the brute galloping style of Denman and the poise and precision of Kauto. Not a bad combination.

Imperial Commander looked relaxed and confident in the pre-parade ring. When the tape went up he settled well early behind Carruthers and Denman. He jumped fluidly and following Kauto Star’s exit four out, he went into second and led two out, from where he powered up the hill, away from Denman and a hard-at-work Tony McCoy.

Winning in the end by a widening seven lengths, Paddy Brennan passed the winning post and turned to the Grandstand, putting one finger up to his lips, Arshavin-like, in a silencing motion as he trotted to the winner’s enclosure, a new champion. Imperial Commander was awarded a Timeform rating of 184, the fifth highest of all time, and Brennan, when asked about his silencing gesture, responded: “I put the quiet sign up because he was probably a little bit forgotten coming into the race.”

Now he will be remembered.

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