Abbey is Aidan's big derby hope
St Nicholas Abbey remains Aidan O'Brien's prime candidate for the Epsom Derby next month despite some corners willing to write him off after his sixth place finish in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket just over a week ago.
Last year's top two-year-old held a reputation as the next Sea The Stars over the winter months, but failed to replicate that once in a lifetime sensation when suffering defeat in the season's opening Classic.
It has been a season to which the Ballydoyle stars have been slower than normal out of the blocks and with that sluggish start, a disappointing Newmarket, a poor Chester meeting and a luckless Lingfield Derby Trial, Sunday's Derrinstown Derby Trial success of the possibly aptly named Midas Touch was a much needed tonic.
"We are just starting to come out of the jungle and the horses are just starting to come to hand. If that is the case then great as there are a lot of good races coming up," O'Brien said with Sunday's success behind him.
It was a numerically diluted Derrinstown, though, and while he beat an above decent sort of Dermot Weld's into second and also boosted the form of stable companion Jan Vermeer, St Nicholas Abbey is still the head honcho around Cashel.
O'Brien said: "He was a highly rated two-year-old and you dream that the ability is still there.
"He has always been the number one contender and nothing has changed about that.
"I will let him defend himself. I am not trying to blow him up or hype him -- I will let him show you."
A son of Montjeu, it would be an immediate thought that his breeding would mean the Derby trip of 1m4f would be ideal and far more suitable than that of the 1m which he tackled on his seasonal debut.
But it was on the basis of his explosive homework that O'Brien felt the Newmarket feature was a winnable target. "He has to stand up and do it, but he has to be forgiven for what happened in the Guineas," insisted O'Brien.
"I didn't want to destroy him by training him too hard and he has come on nicely for the run.
"He had the last week off and we will start building him up again as there is a month to the race. He is in a good place to go to Epsom but perhaps he was too sharp on the day at Newmarket. He was ready to run a hard mile and it wasn't a hard mile."
O'Brien added: "He jumped at Newmarket and he jumped handy. Frankie Dettori's horse (Al Zir) bumped him early on and he went into fifth gear after that and ran fresh."
The trainer appointed no blame to either the horse or the trip for his overturning at Newmarket, saying: "He has always been very natural and we have always felt that all we could do is to spoil him. He doesn't take much training and has a very strong mind.
"He has to step up, but I think it is in there. It was circumstance that beat him at Newmarket. I was not worried about the trip going there as his times had been as good as all of the good milers we have had, and he was doing it easily -- on the bridle.
"That could have been his undoing and if I had asked more of him then he might not have been so fresh." Indeed, O'Brien hinted that while the Epsom Derby is the only item on the agenda at the moment, a return for a point-proving mission back over a mile could be considered later in the season. "I would have no problem dropping him back to a mile if I knew it was going to be a strongly run mile," said O'Brien.
Jan Vermeer has yet to be seen in competitive action this season and where his seasonal bow will come is so far yet to be decided but after a racecourse gallop at the Curragh he is almost ready to begin.
"Jan Vermeer has been fine since his day out at the Curragh," said O'Brien.
"He has the option of going to the Irish Guineas and then to Epsom.
"If he misses the Irish Guineas then he could go straight to the French Derby so he has a lot of options at the moment."