03/30/2013 1:23PM

Dubai Sheema Classic: St Nicholas Abbey takes advantage of perfect trip

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Andrew Watkins
Joseph O'Brien guides St Nicholas Abbey to a 2 1/4-length victory over the Japanese filly Gentildonna in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A spot of trouble might have cost St Nicholas Abbey victory in the 2012 Sheema Classic, so jockey Joseph O’Brien was taking no chances this year. O'Brien placed St Nicholas Abbey just off the pace of Shareta, and they had a clean run the entire trip, winning the Group 1, $5 million Sheema Classic by 2 1/4 lengths over favored Japanese filly Gentildonna.

[DUBAI WORLD CUP: Watch replays and read race recaps]

“I always thought he wanted to be ridden back a little bit,” said Aidan O’Brien, St Nicholas Abbey’s trainer and Joseph’s father. “Joseph and [part-owner] Derek Smith thought he could be ridden forward. They got their way today, and they might have been right.”

Six-year-old St Nicholas Abbey has developed into a true international star. He has multiple Group 1 wins in England, and won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs. He finished third behind Little Mike and Point of Entry in the 2012 BC Turf at Santa Anita. Most remarkable is the fact that St Nicholas Abbey has stayed good for so long. He won the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy Stakes at age 2, and was a leading candidate for the 2010 Epsom Derby before an injury derailed that quest. Back in action after almost a year away, he captured the Group 1 Coronation Cup as a 4-year-old.

St Nicholas Abbey’s only subpar races have come on soft turf, which the horse cannot abide. The ground at Meydan was anything but soft Saturday night, with course records set in three races, including St Nicholas Abbey’s clocking of 2:27.70 for 2,400 meters, or about 1 1/2 miles. St Nicholas Abbey paid $8.80 to win in U.S. pools.

“I think what’s massively helped him is fast ground. That’s the key to him,” Joseph O’Brien said.

The French mare Shareta took up the early running from the rail, with St Nicholas Abbey positioned just off her flank in second, and Gentildonna, winner of the Japanese filly Triple Crown and the Japan Cup last year, positioned outside those two and just off the pace.

“We didn’t go very quick down the back, and I was able to go slow and back down the pace,” O’Brien said.

St Nicholas Abbey had Shareta measured all the way, and ran at her as the pair turned into the long straightaway. St Nicholas Abbey made the front as Gentildonna took up the chase, briefly looking as though she was going the better of the pair. But St Nicholas Abbey stayed on gamely, turning back Gentildonna’s challenge to win going away.

Longshot Very Nice Name came on decently to get third, with 2011 Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden, disadvantaged by the moderate early tempo, rallying belatedly for fourth.