AIDAN O’Brien’s St Nicholas Abbey, the £5m racehorse who had to be put down yesterday to spare his suffering, will be remembered with contrasting emotions for his two appearances in Yorkshire.
The first was his breathtaking victory in the 2009 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, the beginning of a five-season career on the racetrack that was to yield six successes at the highest level.
The regret is that he could not prove his class in the following year’s Classics.
The second occasion was the 2012 Juddmonte International. Here was a horse who had beaten the world’s best in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in America under his young jockey Joseph O’Brien – the trainer’s son – who was being made to look decidedly one-paced by the brilliance of Sir Henry Cecil’s incomparable Frankel.
As Frankel ventured into unknown territory at the two-furlong pole – this was the first and only time that he raced over a mile-and-a-quarter – Cecil’s champion had not even come off the bridle while O’Brien was working overtime on St Nicholas Abbey, a son of the brilliant sire Montjeu. It just served to illustrate the freakish nature of the runaway winner.
Yet this should take nothing away from a horse, one of the best middle-distance colts of his generation, who provided his jockey with a first Breeders’ Cup success.
This was a career-defining horse which convinced racing sceptics that the jockey was good enough to become Ballydoyle’s first rider on merit.
O’Brien junior said at York last August that there would “never” be another horse which meant as much to him as “St Nicks”.
His father did not disagree, saying last year: “He’s an incredible horse and has everything you want in a racehorse – he quickens, he travels and is a joy to be around.”
St Nicholas Abbey, a three-time winner of Epsom’s Coronation Cup, also captivated the imagination of the racing public after fracturing his pastern on the Ballydoyle gallops last summer.
As well as life-saving surgery so the horse could stand at stud at Coolmore, he then required an emergency operation to treat colic.
He had another setback when it was discovered a steel weight-bearing pin in a cannon bone had broken, and then had a further serious blow with mild laminitic changes in the left fore.
That St Nicholas Abbey’s progress was charted on film by Coolmore was testament to the horse’s popularity, but the seven-year-old had to be put down on humane grounds after a further bout of colic was diagnosed.
“This is extremely unfortunate as St Nicholas Abbey had been in terrific form, the laminitis was resolving very well and the fracture had healed better than expected,” said a Coolmore spokesman.
“Coolmore would like to thank the surgeons, the international experts and all the staff at Fethard Equine Hospital who gave him such excellent care 24/7. We would also like to thank the multitude of well-wishers for all the cards and messages of support.”
Last night Derby-winning jockey Johnny Murtagh, who was in the saddle for the Racing Post Trophy win, paid this tribute: “He was potentially one of the best I’ve ever ridden.”
n Lady Jane Cecil’s Betfred Ebor winner Tiger Cliff will miss this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The horse’s hurdling career has been put on hold after his new trainer Alan King was forced to close down his yard due to a virus.
“I think we are probably going to skip Cheltenham and have a full year as a novice with him next season,” said King.
“There are some nice prizes on the Flat for him so we will target those and then go over hurdles with him in the winter.
“He is a horse that wants a bit of time between his runs, so we would be pushed to get two runs into him before Cheltenham.”
n David Pipe’s Wetherby winner Red Sherlock will step up in class after his impressive win at the West Yorkshire track on Saturday.
Unbeaten from five starts in Bumpers and hurdle races, the horse – owned by the late David Johnson – could reappear at Cheltenham’s Festival Trials Day on Saturday, January 25.
“He is clearly one of the brightest young stars in the yard; he will get better as he acquires further experience,” said Pipe.
The trainer also said that stable star Dynaste is on target to run at the Cheltenham Festival despite finishing lame in the King George.
He holds entries in both the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase.
n Richard Johnson believes Captain Chris can still develop into a genuine Cheltenham Gold Cup contender after his fine effort at Kempton on Saturday.
The Philip Hobbs-trained 10-year-old beat Champion Court by 23 lengths at the weekend and will head for the Betfair Chase at Ascot on February 15.
“I’ve always thought he was a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse but the trouble is he does prefer to go right-handed,” said Johnson who reached a century of winners for an 18th consecutive season at Exeter yesterday when Royal Player prevailed.
“He’s a horse who’s had issues with his wind before so genuine good ground will see him at his best.”
n Frankie Dettori is set to return to competitive action next week. He has been out since October when he fractured his ankle in a fall at Nottingham four days before he was due to ride Treve in the Qater Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.