Just two weeks after Nephrite’s odds-on defeat behind stable-companion Requisition, 2/5 favourite and 124-rated St. Nicholas Abbey, winner of the Breeders Cup Turf last November and narrowly beaten by Cirrus Des Aigles in the Dubai Sheema Classic, stayed on stoutly inside the final furlong to get within a length of the 99-rated winner, enterprisingly ridden by Colm O’Donoghue to register his first success since landing a Dundalk maiden in October 2007.
Predictably, Robin Hood (Seamus Heffernan) set a strong pace, tracked by the eventual winner as the Ballydoyle pair established a clear advantage over the Joseph O’Brien-ridden favourite, which was tracked throughout by market-rival Sharestan (Johnny Murtagh).
The leading duo enjoyed a ten-length advantage approaching the straight. Soon after turning in, Johnny Murtagh on Sharestan moved alongside and passed the favourite to give chase, as Windsor Palace set sail for home.
At this stage, O’Brien still sat still on the favourite, delaying his move further. Inside the final furlong, Sharestan, tackling ten furlongs for the first time, was unable to trouble the winner and tired, while St.Nicholas Abbey came through and finished strongly, but was beaten a length.
While Aidan O’Brien commented that Windsor Palace had run well, behind Excelebration here last time, his comments regarding St. Nicholas Abbey were of great significance and proved cold comfort for his supporters: “It was St. Nicholas Abbey’s first run back after Dubai and everyone knows he’s not a heavy ground horse.
“The last thing Joseph wanted to do was give him a hard race in that ground. Joseph let him find himself. He ran a lovely race and I’m delighted with him. He’ll go back to Epsom now for the Coronation Cup.”
The Stewards later held an enquiry into the running and riding of St. Nicholas Abbey, interviewing both Aidan and Joseph O’Brien.
The trainer’s evidence was along similar lines to his comments to the press while he “expressed satisfaction with the ride, considering the ground conditions”.
Joseph in his evidence confirmed his instructions, to get St. Nicholas Abbey “to switch off, get settled and make the best of his way home.”
He also reported that his mount “hated the ground” and that he was never happy with the way he travelled, that he tried to hold onto him for as long as possible, to “make sure he got home on the ground”. He also stated that he felt the horse had obtained his best possible position taking the conditions into account.”
Having heard the evidence from both trainer and rider, the Stewards noted the explanations.
The Group 3 Canford Cliffs Athasi Stakes also produced a shock as 9/1 shot Gossamer Seed, the only four-year-old in the race, romped to a convincing four and three-quarter lengths win over favourite Bulbul.
Ridden by Shane Foley, the John Murphy-trained Choisir filly, officially rated 93, was recording her third career success, having won her maiden in Mallow as a juvenile and a handicap, off a mark of 80, in Sligo last June.
Representing his trainer-father, George Murphy commented: “She’s a tough filly and loves that soft ground. She’ll probably go for another stakes race in a month or so before having a break, when the ground dries out. Dad decided to go to see my sister Sophie play a camogie match rather than come here.”
Shane ‘Dusty’ Foley completed a double when Ondeafears, trained by his boss Michael Halford, won the Newbridge Credit Union Handicap in good style from favourite Winning Impact, reversing recent Leopardstown form with third-placed Olfa.
“She goes through that ground, which helped turn the tables on Dermot’s filly — I’d say it was a big factor,” commented Halford. “She’s a very straight-forward and genuine filly and is getting stronger all the time. There’s a nice fillies handicap for her coming up in Gowran.”