12/18/2009 12:00AM

Europe's next star on the rise

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Edward Whitaker/Racing Post
Johnny Murtagh calls St Nicholas Abbey, winning the Racing Post Trophy, one of the best he has ever ridden.

NEW YORK - In the wake of Sea the Stars we are presented with St Nicholas Abbey, who took control of the European juvenile division just two weeks after the retirement of the six-time Group 1 winner.

There are similarities between the two. If anything, St Nicholas Abbey has an edge at this early stage. Both won the one-mile, Group 2 Beresford Stakes at the Curragh, St Nicholas Abbey by three-quarters of a length in his second start, Sea the Stars by a half-length in his third start, after which he was put away for the winter.

St Nicholas Abbey, however, went straight on to better things, winning Doncaster's one-mile, Group 1 Racing Post Trophy in breathtaking style by 3 3/4 lengths, cruising to the lead from last place and drawing clear in hand. The performance prompted Johnny Murtagh to say that "he is one of the best I have ridden." And Murtagh has ridden some very good ones, among them Epsom Derby winners Sinndar, High Chaparral, and Motivator.

The Epsom Derby will be St Nicholas Abbey's major early season goal. First up, however, is likely to be the one-mile, 2000 Guineas on May 1, a race that some think may be too short for a Montjeu 3-year-old. Apparently trainer Aidan O'Brien has no qualms on that score. When asked what his plans for St Nicholas Abbey might be, he was quite clear about where the horse stands in his estimation.

"With some horses you need to find out what they are capable of," O'Brien said. "With him, you know."

The implication was clear. Derby preps such as the Derrinstown Stud and the Ballysax may not be necessary for St Nicholas Abbey. It should be straight to the classics for him, just as it was for Sea the Stars.

The Racing Post gives St Nicholas Abbey a 123 rating, four pounds better than the next highest awarded to Awzaan and Siyouni.

Trained by Mark Johnston, Awzaan could be St Nicholas Abbey's strongest challenger in the Guineas. Awzaan completed a 4-for-4 juvenile season with wins in the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes and the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes, both at six furlongs. Siyouni is a Pivotal colt who displayed great speed for the Aga Khan and trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre during the spring, but suggested he was more than merely precocious when winning the seven-furlong, Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp on Arc Day. He is likely to be aimed at the Poule d'Essai des Poulains, or French 2000 Guineas, on May 9.

Brian Meehan has himself a Guineas hopeful in Arcano. By the exciting young stallion Oasis Dream out of an unraced Daylami mare, the undefeated Arcano won the six-furlong, Group 2 July Stakes at Newmarket before defeating likely European juvenile filly champ Special Duty in Deauville's six-furlong, Group 1 Prix Morny.

The Morny has the makings of a key race as Canford Cliffs, the six-length winner of Royal Ascot's Group 2 Coventry Stakes, was third with Group 3 winners Dolled Up and Zanzibari fourth and fifth, although less than a length separated them all.

Legendary jockey Pat Eddery had been plying his new trade as a trainer since 2004 without much success. That changed at Baden-Baden on Sept. 4 when Hearts of Fire gave him his first Group 3 winner in the seven-furlong Zukunfts-Rennen. Five weeks later Eddery had his first Group 1 victory when Hearts of Fire took the one-mile Gran Criterium in Milan. Four weeks after that the Gran Criterium runner-up Vale of York paid Hearts of Fire a big compliment when he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The two late season Group 1's at Saint-Cloud threw up a couple of viable Epsom Derby candidates. Jan Vermeer, like St Nicholas Abbey an Aidan O'Brien-trained son of Montjeu, led throughout to take the one-mile Criterium International by four lengths, while Passion for Gold, a Medaglia d'Oro-Thunder Gulch cross from the Godolphin camp who had been third in St Nicholas Abbey's Beresford Stakes, won the 1 1/4-mile Criterium de Saint-Cloud. Both races, however, were run on heavy ground, so not too much can be read into the bare form.

Behkabad, a Cape Cross half-brother to the promising stayer Beheshtam, is one to watch, capping as he did a 3-for-3 campaign in the one-mile, Group 3 Prix des Chenes. From an outstanding female family, he should prosper under the care of Jean-Claude Rouget.

Less progressive types that could yet emerge as prominent 3-year-olds include Flying Cross. An O'Brien-trained son of Sadler's Wells out of English, Irish and Yorkshire Oaks winner Ramruma, he took a one-mile Navan maiden second time out by 3 1/2 lengths.

Godolphin is keen on Burj Nahar. The winner of a Nottingham maiden in a time 1.83 seconds faster than the second division, he is a Shamardal colt out of a Lammtarra mare who is a half-sister to Sea the Stars and Galileo. Another Godolphin runner, Rewilding, a Tiger Hill half-brother to two-time Group 1 winner Dar Re Mi, will remain in France with Andre Fabre after his six-length allowance score going a mile at Maisons-Laffitte. But Sahara Kingdom, 2 for 2 for Godolphin on Polytrack in England, could challenge Vale of York in the UAE 2000 Guineas and/or the UAE Derby, races that will be run for the first time this year on a synthetic surface, Tapeta, at sparkling new Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.