Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 16 December 2017

St Nic heads guineas hopefuls

Kieren Fallon can renew his association with O'Brien aboard Viscount Nelson. Photo: Getty Images
Kieren Fallon can renew his association with O'Brien aboard Viscount Nelson. Photo: Getty Images

Aidan O'Brien's red-hot favourite St Nicholas Abbey heads a field of 19 runners declared for Saturday's 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

The Montjeu colt was unbeaten in three starts as a juvenile, culminating in a clear-cut success over Elusive Pimpernel in the Racing Post Trophy last autumn.

He is one of three contenders from O'Brien's Ballydoyle base, with Fencing Master and Viscount Nelson also taking their chance.

John Dunlop's Elusive Pimpernel reopposes following his Craven Stakes success, while Richard Hannon sends Canford Cliffs and Dick Turpin.

Godolphin field two runners, with Al Zir hailing from Saeed bin Suroor's yard. Buzzword is a first Classic runner for second trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni.

Mark Johnston is also double-handed as Middle Park Stakes winner Awzaan and multiple all-weather scorer Greyfriarschorista bid to supplement Mister Baileys' victory for the handler back in 1994.

Xtension, third in the Dewhurst last year, represents Clive Cox, while Pat Eddery will be hoping Hearts Of Fire can bag him his first Classic as a trainer.

The line-up is completed by John Best's pair of Inler and Elspeth's Boy, Audacity Of Hope, Fair Trade, Lord Zenith, Red Jazz and sole French raider Makfi.

Johnny Murtagh will be aboard St Nicholas Abbey, with Colm O'Donoghue riding Fencing Master.

Those arrangements mean that six-times champion Kieren Fallon can renew his association with O'Brien aboard alleged third string Viscount Nelson.

Fallon was stable jockey at Ballydoyle for a number of years but he has not partnered on an O'Brien-trained runner since Dylan Thomas won the 2007 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

"It's exciting to be back riding for Coolmore and Aidan O'Brien," he told the Daily Mail.

"It's a jockey's dream. They have the best horses in the world and are great people to ride for.

"I never thought about whether I'd ride for them again, all I think about is riding as many winners as I can.

"We all know what Aidan can do and, on the big day, he is the trainer everyone wants to ride for.

"Viscount Nelson is not just making up the numbers. He is by Giant's Causeway and out of (2001 Oaks winner) Imagine.

"He has a fantastic pedigree and was just beaten in the Group Two Champagne Stakes."

St Nicholas Abbey is drawn in stall 12 of the 19 runners, with Dick Turpin and Greyfriarschorista on either side.

Elusive Pimpernel will break from stall one, the same draw as last year's winner Sea The Stars, with Awzaan on his outside.

Canford Cliffs will be in gate four for Richard Hughes, with Buzzword in 19 - although the stalls are placed in the centre of the track for the Guineas.

Awzaan was unbeaten in four starts over six furlongs last term, including his defeat of top-class Norfolk Stakes winner Radiohead at Newmarket on his final outing.

Johnston's colt is a son of Alhaarth, who himself finished fourth in the Guineas back in 1996 before striking over trips up to 10 furlongs. His dam, Nufoos, was also a seven-furlong scorer.

On that basis, Angus Gold, racing manager to owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, retains every faith in Awzaan's still-to-be-proven stamina.

"He has done nothing but fool me all of the way through and has proven himself a top-class horse so hopefully he goes there with a good chance," he said.

"On his pedigree he should get the mile and while he has only raced over six furlongs, Richard Hills certainly feels he will definitely get the trip as he switches off and waits for you to ask him and then quickens when he has to.

"He is a small horse but that is the way he is made and what we have to play with."

The Barry Hills-trained Red Jazz arrives on the back of an all-the-way win in the Free Handicap over seven furlongs.

The trainer's son and assistant, Charlie Hills, admits there are still fears about his stamina.

"We've been delighted with him since the Craven meeting and he did a very nice bit of work on Wednesday under Michael (Hills, jockey)," said Hills jnr.

"He seems in great nick with himself, and obviously he's going to need to be, but we couldn't be more happy with him at this stage.

"I'd like to think he's improved since his last run as he'd been off the track for a long time beforehand.

"We're still slightly concerned about the trip and his ideal distance might be seven furlongs, but we'd rather go up in trip and give it a go than drop him back to six furlongs.

"We're drawn in stall three and I see Elusive Pimpernel and Awzaan are near us, so that's fine.

"We'll see how we go regarding tactics but he's a very uncomplicated horse and settles well, which is why we think he could get a mile."

David Elsworth saddled 100-1 shot Stubbs Art to finish third in the Guineas two years ago, while Norse Dancer filled the same position at the same price in 2003.

Fair Trade is slightly better fancied than either of those two runners at this stage, trading at around the 40-1 mark following his recent Newbury maiden win.

Tony Stafford, racing manager for owner Raymond Tooth, believes the Trade Fair colt is worthy of a place in the Guineas line-up, particularly as Elsworth holds his charge in such high regard.

He said: "David has always had a very high opinion of this horse and as he sent out Stubbs Art and Norse Dancer to make the frame, he certainly knows what it takes.

"It is a big step up for him but we have been very happy with him since Newbury and I think everyone is looking forward to the race.

"He is guaranteed to get the mile as he wasn't beaten far over that trip as a juvenile and he won at a mile last time.

"I watched a replay of Newbury last night and he seemed to just find a little bit more in the finish.

"Newmarket is a very fair track and they always do an excellent job with the ground there and the draw in 16 seems fine too.

"Obviously the Racing Post Trophy form looks pretty good, I didn't realise until I watched a replay quite how far back St Nicholas Abbey was two furlongs out.

"I think it looks a strong Guineas this year, the form is pretty solid.

"Our horse in entered in the Dante and the Derby but it's a bit early to say if he wants further or not yet.

"You know what they say though, fourth in the Guineas and win the Derby so we would settle for that!"

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