O’Brien will need to produce some Merlin-style magic if Abbey is to succeed at Epsom

IF Aidan O’Brien can get St Nicholas Abbey to win the Epsom Derby on June 4 then he can surely be mentioned in the same breath as Merlin - and we all know what his profession was.

St Nicholas Abbey’s performance in last Saturday’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket was shocking and, assuming he now travels straight to Epsom, it will take a massive leap of faith for anyone who is considering backing him.

Ladbrokes, who are supposed to be tuned into Ballydoyle, at least better than most, were shortest about him for the 2000 Guineas and are now one of the biggest for the Derby.

He looked a superstar in the making last season, especially when trouncing the opposition in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October.

All the word about his homework, on the lead-in to Newmarket, could not have been more positive and there is no doubt but that all the right people backed him.

He was matched for millions on Betfair and could hardly have been stronger on track, returned at evens.

The bottom line is that defeat was, apparently, regarded as being out of the question and to watch him struggle home a bad sixth was almost astonishing.

Looking back, however, at that Racing Post Trophy you have to ask the question if it was anywhere near as good a race as we all thought at the time?

St Nicholas Abbey beat Elusive Pimpernel and Al Zir and they both ran at Newmarket as well. Elusive Pimpernel was fifth, while Al Zir trundled home in ninth spot.

I hope St Nicholas Abbey runs again prior to Epsom, but you suspect that will not be the case, because the time scale is now quite tight.

He has become a puzzling horse, maybe soft ground is what’s required, but has gone from hero to zero in just one race and O’Brien’s next move is more than eagerly awaited.

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GOT a great kick out of that tasty gamble landed by the Charles Byrnes yard at Ballinrobe on Tuesday night with Cyborg.

He was taken at fancy prices in the morning, as high as 20-1, and returned at just 3-1.

This was a classic. In the papers, Cyborg was down to be ridden by 7lbs claimer, Keith Schous, who is best known as the workrider of Byrnes’ Solwhit.

Then Schous became ‘ill’ during the day and, that evening, an attempt was made to replace him with the vastly more experienced AndrewMcNamara.

The stewards, however, were having none of it, refused the request and so another 7lbs claimer, Robbie McCarth, took over.

And the rest is history, with Cyborg taking advantage of the last flight blunder of Ballyadam Brook to land the wagers.

To see the off-course bookmakers getting hammered was delightful and this very much highlighted the weak position they often find themselves in.

There is little or no independent thinking among off-course layers. Anyone who studies morning-prices carefully will be well aware that they are virtually all now singing from the one hymn sheet.

So, when they saw Schous’ name next to Cyborg most assumed that 20-1 and 16’s would be fine.

Once the leader of the pack got it wrong then the rest were virtually certain to follow like sheep. But when you have the likes Byrnes and Cyborg’s owner, Paddy Wilmott, waiting in the long grass then you really do need to be careful.

Morning-prices are a huge plus for punters and the beauty of the current system is that when a horse is over-priced with one or two firms then the likelihood is that they are all going to have it wrong. It just makes it so much easier to get the few quid on.

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DIDN’T quite realise how bad some of the starts at Limerick last Monday were until I sat down late that night to watch the tape.

This was about as embarrassing as it gets, with a whole series of false starts and the starter, Derek Cullen, having a nightmare.

Denis Egan, Chief Executive of the Turf Club, was this week quoted as saying he has “full faith” in Cullen and that was, well, surprising.

Look, anyone can have an off-day, anyone can get it wrong and the old adage tells us that the man who never made a mistake never made anything.

But what drives people daft is the tendency of officialdom to immediately defend the indefensible, when their own are involved.

Egan can waffle all day, but Cullen should have been the boss down at the start and obviously wasn’t.

At Tipperary last month we had a case of the starter getting it wrong as well, letting them go when De Valira, heavily-backed, wasn’t with the field.

That prompted one punter, who had invested €2,000 on De Valira, to mutter the immortal words: “No wonder there is no one going racing.”

And, of course, the fun continued at Clonmel on Thursday night with three false starts in a handicap chase.

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