St Nicholas can cope with life in fast lane
The Stanjames.com 2,000 Guineas (3.05) at Newmarket today is all about the second coming. Can St Nicholas Abbey take the first step down a road that catapulted Sea The Stars to worldwide fame 12 months ago?
The answer is emphatically in the affirmative. Whether St Nicholas Abbey can emulate Sea The Stars is for another day, but the Ballydoyle colt has the requisite qualities to overcome his 18 opponents in the English season's opening classic.
While non-believers are quick to seize on possible chinks in his armour, they do so more in hope than expectation. Their arguments are based on circumstances St Nicholas Abbey has yet to encounter, such as the prospect of fast ground, rather than any evident flaws in the son of Montjeu.
Indeed, fast ground remains the sole concern, but there's absolutely no reason why this hugely-talented colt should be compromised by it. Any horse can only prove so much over three career starts. And the ground was lively enough when St Nicholas Abbey toyed with Leyali Al Andalus and subsequent Group One winner Passion For Gold in last season's Beresford Sakes.
Moreover, his dazzling victory in last season's Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster has been endorsed in no uncertain terms. Elusive Pimpernel, beaten nearly four lengths into second place, has since waltzed away with the Craven Stakes from Dancing David, who finished fourth at Doncaster. And by his homework Al Zir, third at Doncaster, has proved himself the best of a strong Godolphin contingent for this classic.
Awzaan, unbeaten in four starts, looks a major threat. He showed good acceleration to win the Middle Park Stakes over this course, but it's a worry that he has yet to race beyond six furlongs.
Awzaan will deliver the mid-race speed that should burn off likely non-stayers Canford Cliffs and Dick Turpin. And while Inler and Makfi are both open to improvement, it's hard to envisage them mixing it with St Nicholas Abbey at this stage of their careers.
Beyond the principals, Xtension has solid each-way claims. This one and Fencing Master were involved in a finish of bobbing heads for the Dewhurst Stakes, but Clive Cox's colt, which has better tactical speed than Fencing Master, can fare better here -- especially as Fencing Master has taken time to flourish after the winter recess.
St Nicholas Abbey, by contrast, has done everything Aidan O'Brien has asked of him with no fuss. He is a confident selection.
IN-FORM RUMOUSH TO SEAL SPECIAL VICTORY
On a weekend of classic action, tomorrow's Stanjames.com 1,000 Guineas (3.20) revolves around whether French-trained Special Duty, last year's champion juvenile, can carry her electric speed over the straight mile at Newmarket. It is no easy call.
Plainly best on form, and from a stable that has won this race three times before, Special Duty came unstuck in her trial over seven furlongs three weeks ago. It may well be significant that she was asked to race beyond six furlongs for the first time.
Connections have indicated Special Duty will be held up this time, as she was when galloped in behind three stablemates over a mile last week. Racing sets a sterner test than any homework, however, and she is passed over.
Pollenator, Hibaayeb and Seta are closely matched on last season's May Hill Stakes in which they filled the first three places. Pollenator worked with zeal for the first time on Wednesday and may again prove best, despite Kieren Fallon's enthusiasm for Seta. The former champion has jumped off Music Show to ride the Luca Cumani-trained filly.
While impressive, Music Show beat little in winning her trial, so the vote goes to Rumoush. This one, a half-sister to last year's 1,000 Guineas heroine Ghanaati, positively bristled with potential when winning at Newmarket over nine furlongs recently. She is reported to have thrived since.