Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 25 February 2018

Nathaniel to dent O'Brien's dream run

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

St Nicholas Abbey will get the chance to cap a lucrative spell for his Ballydoyle connections this afternoon with what would be a career-defining triumph in the Betfair-sponsored King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

This day last week, Imperial Monarch's narrow Grand Prix de Paris victory initiated a sequence of 11 Aidan O'Brien-trained winners across six days, a tally that the Wexford native's teenage son bettered by one to take the lead in the domestic jockeys' championship for a first time.

If that sort of momentum carries through to today's Group One, St Nicholas Abbey is poised to record a famous success.

However, this is a quality renewal of the 12-furlong Ascot showpiece, and doubts remain as to whether the five-year-old can quite cut it at such an exalted level.

Granted, he was impressive in storming clear to land a second Coronation Cup at Epsom last month, but with Red Cadeaux and the re-opposing St Leger winner Masked Marvel -- two out-and-out stayers -- filling the places, that form is not special.

It was a similarly iffy renewal that he landed last year, while his Breeders' Cup rout in November -- his most substantial victory since his juvenile days -- came when he was able to run on Lasix, an anti-bleeding agent.

Otherwise, St Nicholas Abbey has fallen well short in the highest echelon, coming unstuck here 12 months ago, and likewise found wanting in the Prix Foy, the Arc and in Dubai in the spring.

With that in mind, it is not surprising that he has been friendless in the betting all week. Michael Stoute's improving Hardwicke winner Sea Moon, second to St Nicholas Abbey in the Turf at Churchill Downs, has been more far popular.

He holds the stamina-laden Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden on their Hardwicke clash and is on an upward curve, though both he and the German-based Arc heroine Danedream appeal less than Nathaniel.

Last year, John Gosden's colt followed a resounding win at the Royal meeting by announcing his arrival on the big stage in this, overcoming a sedate pace to slam Workforce in a dramatic finish.

Back at Ascot next time, circumstances conspired against him when he finished fourth after making the running in the Champion Stakes. Nonetheless, on his reappearance in the Eclipse, he atoned for that reversal with a courageous win over 10 furlongs.

Obviously, that Nathaniel has had just two weeks to recover is a concern, but Gosden won't have taken the decision to run lightly. He clearly feels that his stable star is fit and, if that is the case, there is unlikely to be a better horse in the race.

In the International Handicap, Bonnie Brae carries just a 3lb penalty for her authoritative win at Newmarket last week. She could prove hard to stop under Ryan Moore, but a better option in the 29-runner heat might be the Lincoln hero Brae Hill.

Representing the in-form Richard Fahey-Paul Hanagan axis, Brae Hill posted his best effort since Doncaster when coming from an impossible position to nearly overhaul Memory Cloth at Newcastle three weeks ago.


He gets in today off the same mark and, on the basis that seven furlongs should suit him better on this stiffer track than at Newcastle, he looks cracking value at up to 25/1.

Earlier, Carlton House, third and fourth in last year's Epsom and Irish Derbies, is opposable now that he drops in trip for the Summer Mile. The one to take him on with is Tullius, which has won its three starts for Andrew Balding this term on soft ground.

While this is a step up in class, it isn't the strongest Group Two if you scratch Carlton House, and the shorter trip might just be on the sharp side for him. At Newmarket, Jessica Harrington sends Bible Belt for a tilt at a Listed race.

Held behind So You Think in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, Fran Berry's mount should strip fitter now, and the ratings suggest that she will be superior to her 10 rivals if she does.

Best Bet: Nathaniel

Irish Independent

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