Abbey woe for O'Brien as Murtagh gets Novellist call
Johnny Murtagh has been confirmed as the rider of Novellist in Saturday's King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, but news of the booking was overshadowed after leading fancy St Nicholas Abbey sustained a career-ending injury.
In the absence of the six-times Group One winner, Novellist is now the 4/1 second favourite behind Cirrus Des Aigles with the sponsors Betfair, and trainer Andreas Wohler has moved to snap up the in-form Meath man.
Ryan Moore partnered the four-year-old to win the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud last time out, when Cirrus Des Aigles could finish only fifth on his first run of the year. However, Moore will be required to ride Michael Stoute's Hillstar, which was supplemented on Monday at a cost of £75,000.
William Buick is another who has ridden Novellist before, but his boss John Gosden is likely to have runners at York on the same afternoon. That meant Wohler turned his attentions to Murtagh who, despite starting a training career this summer, remains at the peak of his powers in the saddle, as he showed when winning the Irish Oaks aboard the wayward Chiquita last weekend.
"We've booked Johnny as there were question marks over the other jockeys we've used before," said Wohler. "The owner (Dr Christophe Berglar) didn't want to be hanging around until the last minute, which is understandable."
For St Nicholas Abbey, the hope remains he can still have a career at stud after suffering a serious injury at Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard yesterday morning.
Coolmore tweeted: "St Nicholas Abbey suffered a serious career-ending injury at Ballydoyle this morning. We hope to save him for a career at stud."
Dane O'Neill has spoken of his delight at coming in for the ride on Roger Varian's Ektihaam, which slipped up on the bend in a dramatic Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.
O'Neill is second jockey to owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum behind Paul Hanagan, but the latter has chosen to go to York to ride the William Haggas-trained Mukhadram. "He's a solid horse and rides in these races aren't easy to come by," O'Neill said.
The Mark Johnston-trained Universal has won four of his last five starts and was most impressive when winning the Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket last time. He tests the water at Group One level for the first time this weekend.
Very Nice Name is to provide an exotic addition to another global field. While trainer Alban de Mieulle is French, the colt can count as a runner from Qatar as his official stable is in Doha. De Mieulle dominates the Arabian racing scene in the Gulf state as trainer for Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani.
The Sheikh has been extending his interests into thoroughbred racing and transferred Very Nice Name from Freddie Head to De Mieulle's care last year. He has good horses with other French trainers, including Yellow And Green and French Fifteen.
Qatar has been the making of the son of Whipper, as he won five consecutive local Group races between December and February before he finished third on by far his biggest test when staying on behind St Nicholas Abbey in the Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night.