10/23/2009 12:00AM

Early test for Epsom Derby hopefuls

Email

St Nicholas Abbey, installed as the favorite for next year's Epsom Derby after his victory in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at the Curragh on Sept. 27, travels to England for the first time in his brief career on Saturday for the one-mile $332,000 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. The spotlight will be on St Nicholas Abbey, an Aidan O'Brien-trained son of Montjeu, as the Beresford is the race in which Sea the Stars concluded his juvenile season, so early comparisons to the retired Arc winner will be the order of the day.

St Nicholas Abbey won at first asking when he took a one-mile Curragh maiden by four lengths prior to his one-mile Beresford score. Out of a Sure Blade mare who is a half-sister to 1999 Racing Post Trophy winner Aristotle, he should have no trouble with the soft going, as his maiden victory came on the same type of ground. Johnny Murtagh will ride.

Eleven juveniles will oppose St Nicholas Abbey. Godolphin counters with Al Zir, who is a $1.6 million Medaglia d'Oro yearling who is a half-brother to Forego Handicap winner Midas Eyes. Al Zir landed a seven-furlong Newmarket maiden by four lengths in his debut before cruising home in a seven-furlong Doncaster allowance. Frankie Dettori rides while Ahmed Ajtebi will partner his stablemate Al Ghazal.

Al Ghazal has won a Sandown maiden and a Leicester allowance in two starts. He is by 2004 Racing Post Trophy winner Motivator out of a mare who is a full sister to Sea the Stars's sire, Cape Cross.

The John Dunlop-trained Elusive Pimpernel has not run since he made it 2 for 2 in the seven-furlong, Group 3 Acomb Stakes at York on Aug. 18, but is rated Ladbrokes' 7-2 second choice behind the 2-1 St Nicholas Abbey. The Montjeu colt Coordinated Cut was a course and distance winner in his maiden debut on Sept. 10, while his Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained stablemate Morana won his maiden third time out by winning Ascot's one-mile, Group 3 Autumn Stakes.

The Mark Johnston-trained Shakespearean looks like the value play at 14-1 off his victories in the seven-furlong, Group 3 Solario Stakes and the $2.3 million Goffs Million Mile.