St Nicholas Abbey
(Photo : Daily Mail)
ST NICHOLAS ABBEY
Tony Morris, to our way of thinking is, in the realm of bloodstock analysis, the best since bubblegum. He has few equals , and this is worth reading to the end. This is what he had to say about the most exciting juvenile in Europe.
It might seem scarcely conceivable that within a few days of the retirement of one superstar another should arrive from the next crop. Is St Nicholas Abbeyreally as good as he looked in Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy, and could he emulate the achievements of Sea the Starsin 2010?
We have come to expect Aidan O’Brien to extol the virtues of his young charges, some cynics suggesting that it’s in his contract. But nobody who witnessed the Montjeucolt’s stunning display at Doncaster needed the master of Ballydoyle’s assurance that this was something out of the ordinary.
All 11 runners were winners last time out, and St Nicholas Abbey was one of five with an unbeaten record.
Held up in last place, and travelling easily, the favourite made smooth headway from the two-furlong marker, slipped effortlessly between the Godolphin contenders AlZir and Al Ghazal approaching the last, and delivered an explosive turn of foot to go well clear. Johnny Murtagh never even drew his whip.
Of course, we have seen plenty of apparently top-grade performances in the past by two-year-olds who went on to disappoint at three; the names of such as Apalachee and Tromos spring readily to mind. But the bookmakers already had St Nicholas Abbey as Derby favourite before the weekend, and they were not going to leave him at 10-1 after the race.
There are still several races which might draw attention to juveniles as yet undiscovered, including a couple of Group Ones at Saint-Cloud, but there can be little doubt that St Nicholas Abbey will head the European two-year-old rankings, and unless something extra-special happens at the Breeders’ Cup, he will be proclaimed the clear leader of his division in the world, as dominant as Sea the Stars has proved in his.
Superstars in consecutive crops? It’s rare, but it does happen once in a while, and in 2010 we might just be regretting that this season’s exceptional three-year-old is not around to cross swords with a new hero, just as we rued the absence of Nijinskyfrom the year when BrigadierGerardand Mill Reefdisplayed their greatness.
In 1960s America the crop that produced Buckpasserand Graustark was followed by one that delivered anequally distinguished pair in Damascus and Dr Fager.
The 1967 Woodward Stakes actually brought three of them together, though the result – a ten-length victory for Damascus, with Buckpasser shading Dr Fager by half a length for second place – almost certainly provided a misleading guide to the trio’s relative merits.
Their overall records suggested that the reverse order was the correct one.
St Nicholas Abbey is not going to have to contend with Sea the Stars, which – as things stand at present – allows the belief that he will dominate the 2010 season as comprehensively as his immediate predecessor. The prospect is hugely exciting, but we must never forget that any horse may be vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; this one has only to tread on a stone at an inopportune moment for all our extravagant hopes to be dashed.
Of course, one of the factors that enables us to believe in a fabulous future for St Nicholas Abbey is that he is by Montjeu. Two previous Racing Post Trophy winners by the same sire – Motivatorand Authorized– went on to Derby glory at Epsom.
And this is a horse who did not have a three-year-old runner until 2005. Amazingly, we have already become accustomed to the idea : think Derby, think Montjeu.
But while the hyping of St Nicholas Abbey is in full spate, let’s reflect what it suggests. If he is really to prove that he belongs in the same league as Sea the Stars, he is not only going to be better than all those other celebrated sons of Montjeu. He is going to be better than Montjeu himself. And we need to realise just what a tall order that is.
Montjeu, an accomplished middle-distance performer with an exceptional turn of foot, was rated 137 by Timeform as both a three-year-old, when he won the Prix du Jockey-Club, Irish Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and a four-year-old, when he won the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and positively cantered away with the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, winning it in a style that resembled a carbon copy of Nijinsky’s victory over Blakeney in 1970.
Timeform ratings have set the standard in Thoroughbred racing for more than six decades, and in all that time no horse with a rating of 137 or higher has ever sired a horse better than himself. That is not to say that it’s impossible, but it has never happened yet, and all the evidence indicates that 137 represents a peak from which the only direction in the next generation is downward.
A horse rated in the high 120s or low 130s will sometimes get runners of a higher quality than himself, Sadler’s Wells– rated 132 – being an obvious example, but the real superstar performer tends to get plenty of above-average performers without ever managing to sire a runner within several pounds of his own class.
So what does a racehorse of Montjeu’s class, and a sire of Montjeu’s proven quality, require to get a son as good as himself? Basic genetics tells us that stallion and mare make equal contributions at conception; it’s a 50-50 partnership in terms of genes supplied to the offspring.
Montjeu was never going to have a mate with a rating as high as his own, and the influence of inferior partners was always liable to result in progeny who could not hope to match his brilliance as a runner.
To get a runner of his own calibre, Montjeu would need to supply all the beneficial genes crucial to racecourse performance, dominating those of his mate in every respect. That would be a longshot, and it did not happen when St Nicholas Abbey’s sister Cascata was conceived.
She did win first time out at Great Leighs as a two-year-old, but she has not scored since, and her best Timeform rating to date is 87 – clearly above the average for the breed, but far removed from the mark that her sire achieved in every race he ran.
But maybe – just maybe – that longshot has come up in St Nicholas Abbey. His dam, Leaping Water, would not have regarded as indifferently bred when she was foaled.
Bred by Sheikh Mohammed, she was by a high-class miler in Sure Blade, and her dam Flamenco Wave had been a juvenile Group 1 winner in Ireland. But she was either unsound or very slow – perhaps both – and never got to the races; and she could not have been much of a looker, either, as she fetched only 3,200gns when culled as a three-year-old at the 1993 Newmarket July Sales. With Sure Blade proving no better than other sons of Kris at stud, who could say that she was cheap at the price?
Leaping Water had an extraordinary career at stud. She had three years with Pips Pride, producing one winner of little account, was sent to America carrying a DefiniteArticle colt who turned out to be Grammarian, successful in a couple of moderately-contested Grade 2 events on grass there, then produced three non-runners, a filly by Boundaryand one of each sex by the bad sire King of Kings.
The fact that her next mating was with Sadler’s Wells was down to the fact that two young half-brothers by the multiple champion sire, Aristotle and Ballingarry, had both become Group 1 winners. The plan brought no joy, as the resultant filly never ran, and the subsequent first liaison with Montjeu, as already related, had only moderate success.
Smart though Aristotle and Ballingarry were, both were essentially natural stayers with no great powers of acceleration; they were typical of their sire’s output, and admirable enough, but not in the superstar category of Montjeu, the best runner Sadler’s Wells ever got.
If Montjeu truly does have a son as good as himself, it is because St Nicholas Abbey is a son of his sire through and through. The Racing Post Trophy hero’s stunning turn of foot suggests that his dam’s influence has been negligible, and we must hope that is the case.