St Nic is there to be shot at, and Xtension looks each-way value

MUCH of today’s Newmarket 2000 Guineas centres on how well favourite St Nicholas Abbey has trained on from last year. Not that he’s susceptible to not having done so but he was frighteningly good in last year’s Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster and it can be the case that the most exceptional juveniles fail to progress at three.

Dropped out the back in a modestly run race on good to soft ground, he picked up like a five-furlong sprinter as he scythed through the field to earn a massively impressive success over Elusive Pimpernel and Al Zir. An excuse has been offered up for the defeat of the runner-up but it’s hard to deny that the winner emerged from the race looking like a vastly superior animal.

What Elusive Pimpernel may have in his favour now is that he handles the famous Newmarket dip, excels on the climb to the line and is race-fit. Nevertheless, his recent Craven victory, impressive as it ultimately was, showed once more that he can get tapped for toe mid-race. It happened last term and is likely to continue while he races at distances up to a mile. The victory did, at least, give a clear indication that he’s improved from last season but it’s also tempting, and feasible, to take the form as further enhancement of the claims of St Nicholas Abbey.

For all that Al Zir is a most promising sort and last season’s exploits from the Godolphin Team offered hope of genuine Classic contenders in 2010, it’s difficult to fathom just how he can be expected to turn around the Doncaster form with both of those that finished in front of him.

Canford Cliffs has been a real talking horse since his runaway victory in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot last June. He was scintillating over six furlongs that day but has been beaten on both subsequent outings over seven. There were excuses offered up for his defeat in Deauville last year but he went someway to leaving the form behind when turning the tables on winner Arcano in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury recently.

He looked to have the latter race in the bag when kicking clear outside the furlong marker but, not for the first time, he drifted markedly to allow stable-companion Dick Turpin steal an unlikely victory.

It’s clear that Richard Hannon has lost no faith in the horse and if the Canford Cliffs from his trainer’s mind actually turns up today, St Nicholas Abbey will have to be Champion The Wonder Horse to beat him.

Perhaps that a little facetious given that Hannon, who rates him the best horse he has ever trained, has won this race three times. Nevertheless, the really fast ground, the extras distance and the track are all concerns – unknowns at best – and there’s no apparent reason other than his trainer’s soundings why he should reverse Greenham form with Dick Turpin.

There was a tight finish to last season’s Dewhurst Stakes where Beethoven just got the better of stable-companion Fencing Master and Xtension. The latter is a really interesting sort who quickened impressively off a modest pace to win the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Goodwood before finishing just a neck behind Beethoven.

He appeared to hold every chance that day and there’s a minor concern that he’ll be best over seven furlongs but he had been off for 11 weeks prior to that race and his trainer reports that the horse has progressed as much as expected.

Fencing Master was just in front of him at Newmarket and he must be respected but the Ballydoyle camp will only hear of one winner. St Nicholas Abbey is bred to win the Derby but he showed blistering pace over this trip last year and the early evidence of 2010 suggests that nothing that has run already this season has developed into a real threat to his superiority.

Had the Racing Post Trophy been run just a month ago, we’d be screaming from the rooftops what a certainty St Nicholas Abbey is today. On that form, this race is at his mercy and, if short prices are your thing, I suggest you bathe your feet. Personally, I prefer the value angle and was taken by the performances of the second and third in the Dewhurst. With that in mind, I’m content to take an each-way punt on Xtension building on last year’s promise with a huge run for progressive trainer Clive Cox.

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