Abbey flops on comeback

ST. Nicholas Abbey, off the track since finishing sixth to Makfi in last year’s English 2,000 Guineas, flopped in his comeback run at the Curragh yesterday, finishing a well-beaten third behind Unaccompanied in the listed Alleged Stakes.

The Ballydoyle colt, winner of the Racing Post Trophy as a two-year-old, was sent off a red-hot 4/11 favourite but, ridden by Seams Heffernan, he was never able to deliver a blow and was beaten six and a half lengths behind the Dermot Weld-trained winner, fresh from a hurdling campaign which culminated in a creditable second in Cheltenham’s JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Having tracked front-running Mount Helicon, Pat Smullen delivered his challenge on Unaccompanied with more than two furlongs to race and quickly looked in command, the Danehill Dancer filly staying on strongly to beat Cilium by two and a half lengths, with St.Nicholas Abbey a further four lengths adrift.

A delighted Dermot Weld said: “She’s a lovely mare and ran a super race in Cheltenham. I felt she had improved since then and she won well today. She’s big and should keep improving.

“The four-year-old champion hurdle at Punchestown is the logical race for her now, unless the ground is firm. After that, she’ll have the summer off and should develop into a smashing dual-purpose mare in the second half of the year, over a mile and quarter or a mile and a half on the flat, and through the next jumps season. I think she has a very big future over hurdles.”

Aidan O’Brien, speaking about St.Nicholas Abbey, explained: “He was a bit fresh and keen. In a steady-enough run race, he had a blow and, by the time he got going, the first two were gone.

“He’s been off a long time and it was nice to get him started again. It’s hard to have a horse like him at his peak at this time of year, in that sort of ground, when you’re looking further ahead with him. We’ll go home, see how he is and decide where he’ll go next.”

It was an otherwise good day for O’Brien, completing a double with Sing Softly in the listed Loughbrown Stakes and the impressive, gambled-on debutant Marksmanship the ten-furlong maiden.

Winner of an apparently modest six-furlong maiden here two weeks ago, Sing Softly stepped into listed company in style to land the Loughbrown convincingly from Defining Year, with highly-rated Glor Na Mara trailing in a very disappointing last of the six runners.

Ridden by Colm O’Donoghue, Sing Softly was prominent throughout, edged ahead of Tell The Wing at the furlong-pole and won by a length, prompting O’Brien to state: “We weren’t sure about her staying seven furlongs, because she has always shown plenty of speed.

“But she stayed the seven well today in bad ground and, who knows, she might get a mile. I was thinking about the Greenlands for her. But either the English or French Guineas would be a possibility after this.”

O’Brien intends running Marksmanship in one of the Derby trials in the coming weeks, following his convincing win in what looked a competitive Irish Stallion Farms Maiden.

The Galileo colt, ridden by Joseph O’Brien, landed a substantial on-course gamble (7/1 to 100/30) and prompted his trainer to comment: “He did it nicely and I’m delighted with him. He was badly drawn but got over quickly, travelled well and was a clear-cut winner. You couldn’t ask him to do any more.”

O’Brien added: “Joseph rode him work in Leopardstown last week and told me he was a Group horse. He’s by Galileo and should have no problem stepping-up in trip. He’ll go for one of the Derby trials.”

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