Reported to have worked very poorly, by his standards, last Friday morning, the official line from Ballydoyle is that the son of Montjeu has suffered a pulled muscle.
The Ballydoyle public relations machine was in full flow before 9am yesterday morning, producing a statement in the name of Aidan O'Brien.
It said: “St Nicholas Abbey was due to work first thing this morning. When he came out of his box, however, we noticed he was stiff behind.
“He had looked slightly stiff yesterday (Monday) evening. His work last Friday was a little lacklustre, for him, and that was the first time we had seen anything different, but he was fine
“He was immediately examined and scanned by our vets this morning. They found a slight muscle injury high up in his hind quarter. This meant he could not work today and we were advised to give him an easy few days.
“Obviously this will preclude him from running in the Investec Derby on Saturday. We always thought St Nicholas Abbey could walk on water and it is very unfortunate for all concerned to have a setback like this so close to the big race.”
A flood of money on Monday for stable companion Jan Vermeer signposted the real possibility St Nicholas Abbey would not make Epsom.
About ten days ago Jan Vermeer was available as high as 20-1 and that was the price St Nicholas Abbey touched on Betfair on Monday.
St Nicholas Abbey won all three of his races as a two-year-old, but it was his final success in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster which signalled he might be something special.
He won that race going away by three and threequarter lengths and was as low as 7-4 for the Derby through the winter.
St Nicholas Abbey made his seasonal debut in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and was said to have been working quite brilliantly on the lead-in to that classic.
The medium of some huge wagers, he went off an even-money chance to beat 18 rivals. St Nicholas Abbey, however, disappointed badly, trailing home a well beaten sixth behind Makfi.
Neither Aidan O’Brien nor Johnny Murtagh, though, lost faith in the horse and a scintillating gallop at Ballydoyle last week, when he trounced Midas Touch, indicated that he was very much back on the right track.
On Friday, however, he worked badly and the writing was on the wall at that stage.
Ladbrokes say his defection has cost punters in the region of £2m (€2.39m) and that his withdrawal is one of the biggest ante-post blows to hit racing in years.
Spokesman, David Williams, said: “It’s dreadful news for punters, they kept faith all though the winter. There’s no way to soften the blow, it highlights the perils of ante-post punting.''
A professional punter, who had invested substantially on St Nicholas Abbey for the Derby on more than one occasion, said yesterday: "Never, as long as I live, will I ever again back a horse ante-post.''
Ladbrokes bet: 13-8 Jan Vermeer, 6-1 Workforce, 7-1 Midas Touch, Bullet Train, Cape Blanco, 10-1 Rewilding, 14-1 Azmeel, 20-1 bar.
Boylesports: 13-8 Jan Vermeer, 11-2 Workforce, 6-1 Midas Touch, 7-1 Bullet Train, 8-1 Cape Blanco, 10-1 bar.
Inevitably speculation will now centre on Johnny Murtagh’s next choice. It will be a major surprise should he not come down on the side of Jan Vermeer, so impressive first time up this season in the Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, Aidan O’Brien said: “It is looking likely, but not definite, that Jan Vermeer, Midas Touch and At First Sight will be going for the Investec Derby and increasingly likely that Cape Blanco will be going for the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby-Chantilly, Sunday), along with Viscount Nelson.”
Kieren Fallon, meanwhile, has been booked to ride Al Zir for Saeed Bin Suroor in the Derby.
The six-times British champion looked set to be without a ride as his retained trainer Luca Cumani does not have a runner while he was unlikely to pick up another spare ride for former boss Aidan O’Brien.
Fallon rode one of the Ballydoyle outsiders, Viscount Nelson, in the 2000 Guineas earlier this year but with O’Brien’s options decreasing, Godolphin have swooped to secure his services.
Al Zir finished ninth in the Guineas and with Frankie Dettori aboard first-choice Rewilding and Ahmed Ajtebi on the surprise supplementary entry Buzzword, the Racing Post Trophy third will have Fallon’s assistance in the saddle.