There is no doubt the performance of St Nicholas Abbey at the Curragh on Monday left a particularly sour taste in the mouths of many punters.
Have we any sympathy for them, absolutely not. The reason is quite simple, anyone who bets an Aidan O’Brien horse at such short odds, in such circumstances, is asking for trouble and has not learned from what has gone on in the past.
Let’s recall the Curragh in April of 2010 and a horse called Fame And Glory in the Listed Alleged Stakes.
In testing conditions, he went off a 2-5 shot, but struggled home a well-beaten third behind She’s Our Mark and Popmurphy. At the weights he had 17lbs in hand of She’s Our Mark 26lbs on Popmurphy.
Once the son of Monjeu had that under his belt he went from strength and won his next four races, including two Group 1’s, the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh and the Coronation Cup at Epsom.
Let’s amuse ourselves a little bit more and go even further back to Yeats. He went to Navan in April of 2009, as a triple Ascot Gold Cup winner, to contest a Listed race.
He was especially easy in the market, touching evens, before lodging at 4-5. The market spoke volumes and Yeats trailed in a distant sixth of eight behind John Oxx’s Alandi. Less than two months later he reappeared at Royal Ascot, went off 6-4 favourite and powered up the straight to win his fourth Gold Cup.
Okay, so we fast-forward to the Curragh in April of last year and St Nicholas Abbey and the Listed Alleged Stakes.
St Nicholas Abbey left the gate as a 4-11 shot and duly got badly turned over. He finished two and a half lengths and four lengths third behind Unaccompanied and Cilium.
Now, admittedly in heavy ground again, he had 26lbs in hand of Unaccompanied and 29lbs on Cilium. But such trifles appear to count for little in Listed races or even Group 3 events. St Nicholas Abbey then improved to win three times through the season, and two of them were Group 1’s, the Coronation at Epsom and the Breeders’ Cup at Churchfield Downs.
Then, of course, we recently had the Nephrite affair, also at the Curragh. Nephrite could only manage third behind his perceived inferior stable companion, Requisition, after the latter had been an inspired gamble.
And so we arrive at the Curragh on Monday and a result that was impossible to fathom.
St Nicholas Abbey had 20lbs in hand of eventual winner, Windsor Palace, but after getting essentially kid-glove treatment from Joseph O’Brien could not reel in the 66-1 chance (329-1 on Betfair).
The facts of the case are in no way complicated. St Nicholas Abbey was given far too much to do by a rider who didn’t get animated until it was too late.
Joseph was still content to sit against his partner passing under the two furlong pole and, by the time the line was reached, those who had backed the horse had to feel almost as poorly as victims of the three-card trick.
Watch the contest again and what you will see is Joseph flicking St Nicholas Abbey with his whip and then resorting to some pushing and shoving.
In contrast Colm O’Donoghue is miles more vigorous and, by my reckoning, hit Windsor Palace ten times in the straight.
The manner in which a minority of Aidan O’Brien-trained horses are sometimes ridden is a constant source of conversation among the press.
It can also be a hot topic with the bookmakers, as well as fellow trainers and, naturally, with the public.
O’Brien is one off the greatest trainers of all time and his job is to do the best he can for his horses. He trains them to improve from run to run and his methods have been amazingly successful.
O’Brien does have a responsibility to the wider racing public, but it is not his business to protect punters.
No, that is the remit of the stewards. They went through the motions, there seems no better way to describe it, of inquiring into St Nicholas Abbey’s performance on Monday.
O’Brien explained to them that since the horse had returned from Dubai he had trained him “with a view to running today, en route to the Coronation Cup.’
The steward seemed to think that was fine and dandy and noted the explanation offered. When stewards note something then that is code for doing nothing.
But how did they not decide that Joseph O’Brien had ridden an injudicious race?
Secondly, were they satisfied that Aidan had issued adequate instruction to his young rider? Presumably they were.
And finally, how did they fail to conclude that the racecourse had been used as a training ground? While the inquiry was ongoing at the Curragh one punter was heard to mutter: “If this happened in India the weigh room would be on fire by now.”
And then another punter sent me this text within minutes of the race finishing. It joked: “Listen, obviously, what a bollox of a ride.” There really was no more to be said.
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