Three years ago on this very weekend, St Nicholas Abbey exploded down the stretch at Doncaster to a chorus of gasps, roars and elation. To many, they had just seen the next big thing, the most exciting two year old colt there had been for years.
It's fair to say things haven't gone to plan for St Nicholas Abbey since that scintillating victory in the Racing Post Trophy. A winter of anticipation and expectation as to what this stunning son of Montjeu could quite achieve in his Classic season, which drew towards a start in the English 2000 Guineas, ended with a mere stumble, a flat line as St Nicholas Abbey would only manage sixth place in behind French raider, Makfi.
St Nicholas Abbey would not make it to the Epsom Derby that year, in fact, he would not be seen again for eleven months where he would falter again at the hands of Dermot Weld's talented dual-purpose mare, Unaccompanied. However, victory would be achieved in stunning fashion just one month after, with a nine-length success in Chester's Ormonde Stakes and provide hope that the old St Nicholas Abbey that many had fallen in love with in 2009 could still return to the top.
To the top he soared; A late rattling drive under the guiding hands of Ryan Moore in Epsom's Coronation Cup would provide St Nicholas Abbey with that Epsom Group 1 twelve months after he failed to make the starting gate of the Epsom Derby. St Nicholas Abbey would go on to defend his crown in the Coronation Cup one year on with a taking performance under Joseph O'Brien. However, despite the impressive victories around Epsom, the pinnacle of European middle distance races have eluded St Nicholas Abbey since his return. Prix de L'Arc de Triomphes and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes have failed to be within his grasp, Juddmonte Internationals, Irish Champion Stakes and even a Dubai Sheema Classic have also proved a step too far for Aidan O'Brien's likeable five year old. When considering St Nicholas Abbey's most taking performance, the performance which showed that old sparkle that the son of Montjeu looked to have as a two year old, would have to be his dominant performance at Churchill Downs last year in the Breeders Cup Turf. Like the Coronation Cup, St Nicholas Abbey looks to defend his title this year yet again, this time at Santa Anita.
St Nicholas Abbey provided Aidan and Joseph O'Brien with the perfect Breeders Cup gift, the first father-and-son combination victory at the Cup for 28 years. The son of Montjeu also provided O'Brien Jnr with a victory that marked him down as the youngest jockey ever to win a Breeders Cup race. By comfortably accounting for the likes of Sea Moon, Sarafina and old rival, Midday, St Nicholas Abbey had propelled himself back towards the top of the European middle distance horses and, despite the vacancy of a top level European Group 1 victory from his curriculum vitae, mark him down as a very exciting horse to follow in in 2012.
For St Nicholas Abbey, this isn't a case of just defending a race he won with an exceptional turn of foot, this is all that St Nicholas Abbey has left. This race, his only top level victory outside of Epsom for three years, is run at the clockwise direction in which St Nicholas Abbey, according to the expert opinion, thrives and races to the best of his ability. Anything other than victory in the Breeders Cup Turf on Saturday would be seen as a failure, and quite where St Nicholas Abbey would stand within the Coolmore operation thereafter leaves much to be desired.
With just victories at Epsom to his name, aside from victory in a the Breeders Cup Turf, would Coolmore be able to demand a stud fee worthy of their normal operation or would St Nicholas Abbey disappear into the ether.
Victory is a must for St Nicholas Abbey on Saturday.