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O'Brien hoping St Nicholas can defend crown


Aidan O'Brien has singled out Point Of Entry as the main stumbling block to St Nicholas Abbey's attempt to retain his Breeders' Cup Turf crown at Santa Anita today.

The five-year-old Montjeu entire was successful for the Ballydoyle trainer and his jockey son, Joseph, at Churchill Downs 12 months ago and, just as last year, St Nicholas Abbey has to bounce back from defeat in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

"He's in good form and we are happy with him," said O'Brien Snr. "He also loves fast ground, but when he ran in the Arc it was heavy and Joseph said he was in trouble early on.

"He absolutely thrives on travelling and, as usual, has taken it all in his stride. I do recognise that Point Of Entry looks one of the best Turf horses the Americans have had for a while."

O'Brien has a line through Point Of Entry as his other Turf contender, Treasure Beach, went down by a length and three-quarters to Claude 'Shug' McGaughey's four-year-old at Belmont in September.

McGaughey is looking forward to taking on all-comers, including those from Europe. "I think it is a very worthy challenge. That's what makes it the Breeders' Cup," he said. "Without the European influence, the Breeders' Cup wouldn't be what it is."

Former Newmarket trainer Simon Callaghan, now based in the US, saddles Slim Shadey, formerly with Stan Moore, for whom he was fourth to Frankel in last year's 2,000 Guineas.

"He loves the course and the fast ground on the turf track," said Callaghan. "He needs to step up off a win in a Grade Two but he seems tremendously well in himself."

O'Brien's main hope of the evening is Excelebration as he bids to supplement his impressive Ascot success just two weeks ago in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

The four-year-old put up arguably a career-best performance when winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and O'Brien hopes those exertions have not left their mark.

"As he's got older he appears to have got stronger and faster," said the Ballydoyle supremo. "When he won at Ascot, the ground was obviously a lot softer than he'll meet on Saturday, but hopefully he'll handle that okay.

"It was always the plan to come on to the Breeders' Cup after Ascot. I suppose there is always the chance two Group One races in two weeks is asking too much of the horse, but he seems in very good form."

Excelebration had won the Prix Jacques le Marois on his previous start when Moonlight Cloud was beaten a length and three-quarters in fourth.

O'Brien saddles two -- George Vancouver and Lines Of Battle -- in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, but according to the bookies, Roger Charlton's Dundonnell is the principal European hope. The American-bred two-year-old built on a promising Newmarket debut with a 12-length triumph at Lingfield, before opening his Pattern-race account with a stylish performance in the Acomb Stakes at York.

He had to make do with the runner-up spot behind the exciting Toronado in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, but his trainer could not be happier with his charge after seeing him breeze on Thursday morning.

O'Brien is still hopeful of a decent show from the Ryan Moore-ridden George Vancouver and apparent second string Lines Of Battle, the mount of Richard Hughes.

Jeremy Noseda is no stranger to success at this fixture, having saddled Wilko to win the Juvenile race on dirt in 2004. This year he is keen on the chances of Fantastic Moon, which won his first two starts before finishing fifth in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.

Irish Independent