Murtagh: Abbey to dictate Derby
Things are still not quite how they should be in Ballydoyle. Some of the horses are definitely below par, others are just taking a run more than expected but then there are those who show no ill-effects.
Yesterday, Aidan O'Brien notched up his first winner across the Irish Sea for this season as Cape Blanco won a testing Dante Stakes on very lively ground at York to put him firmly in the picture for the Epsom Derby next month and leaving him at 6/1 second favourite with Boylesports for the 1m4f showpiece.
If he too is to show improvement from his seasonal debut in his second appearance, Cape Blanco could be the one that breaks Aidan O'Brien's barren spell in the Derby since 2002, but you still couldn't bet against stable jockey Johnny Murtagh riding St Nicholas Abbey.
Workforce hung like a garden gate in the business end of the race and thus questioned his Derby credentials while the former Jim Bolger-trained Chabal couldn't follow on his Group 3 seasonal bow, but had to be under the weather because his performance "was too bad to be true" as the now Godolphin-owned three-year-old faded badly and trailed home under a confused Frankie Dettori.
Naturally, Murtagh wasn't going to nail his colours to the mast as regards the Derby and riding arrangements, but it was still very clear how high in regard St Nicholas Abbey is held by the Ballydoyle outfit.
"He (Cape Blanco) has got what it takes, but if the St Nicholas Abbey who ran at Doncaster turns up at Epsom the rest are playing for places," revealed Murtagh.
"Cape Blanco is unbeaten in four starts and is a very good horse. He is up there in the top four three-year-olds at Ballydoyle. You all know what I think about St Nicholas Abbey, but this guy has been there and done it in a very good trial and he is genuine and tough."
Of Workforce, Michael Stoute reported: "The bit went through his mouth turning into the straight, which wouldn't have helped." Of Chabal Frankie, Dettori added: "I can't put my finger on it, he was beaten four out. It's very disappointing as we thought we had a Derby horse -- it was too bad to be true."
There was a strange twist to the winner, however, who was available at 8/1 on Betfair having been apparently sore in the aftermath of the race.
With a debate raging throughout the racecourse, officials went to examine the 9/2 winner but were refused by the winning trainer, who was watching on from his Cashel base.
Both stipendiary steward Robert Earnshaw and BHA vet Lynn Hillyer spoke to O'Brien by phone and he failed to allow them to trot the horse for examination or for Pat Keating (travelling head lad) to meet the stewards.
Earnshaw reported: "Our vet is down at the stables but Mr O'Brien has refused to have the horses trotted up in front of the vet. The lad has loaded the horses up and is heading for the airport.
"Mr O'Brien also refused a request for the stable lad to be interviewed by the stewards so the matter has been referred to the British Horseracing Authority under Rule B 83, which states that persons must comply with any instruction given by stewards at a race meeting."