04/26/2010 11:00PM

Layoff no worry in 2000 Guineas


St Nicholas Abbey's seasonal debut in the 2000 Guineas on Saturday will be his first start in 189 days, but no one should be frightened off him by what is an unusually long layoff by American standards. Seven of the last nine winners of the one-mile classic have triumphed off similar winterlong vacations, and four of those were trained by the man in charge of St Nicholas Abbey, Aidan O'Brien.

It is a different game in Europe, where the British and Irish flat racing seasons on turf don't start until the third week of March, with the cream of the crop rarely making their reappearance until May. Only three of the last 10 2000 Guineas winners had even a single 3-year-old prep. That works out to an average of .30 of a prep race for Guineas winners since 2000. By comparison, Kentucky Derby winners during the same period have averaged 3.1 preps each.

St Nicholas Abbey's appearance at Newmarket on Saturday may be the most highly anticipated 3-year-old debut since Arazi ran in the Prix Omnium II at Saint-Cloud in 1991. It comes on the heels of Sea the Stars's championship season, so comparisons with that six-time Group 1 winner are inevitable, even at this early date.

Sea the Stars also made his 3-year-old debut in the 2000 Guineas, winning by 1 1/2 lengths as the 8-1 sixth choice. His previous start had been a winning one in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at the Curragh. That is a race St Nicholas Abbey also won, but what makes him Ladbrokes antepost Guineas favorite at 11-8 is his devastating 3 1/4-length romp in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy on Oct. 25.

He came from last to first on the straight Doncaster mile that day, hardly turning a hair in the process while leaving runner-up Elusive Pimpernel toiling in his wake. The same Elusive Pimpernel was by far the most impressive winner of a Guineas prep this spring, his four-length score in the Group 3 Craven Stakes over the Guineas course and distance on April 15 making him Hill's 9-2 second favorite on Saturday.

St. Nicholas Abbey's pedigree suggests that he will be at his best going 1 1/2 miles. By King George and Arc winner Montjeu out of the Sure Blade mare Leaping Water, he is a half-brother to Grammarian, winner of the 1 1/2-mile, Grade 2 Sunset Handicap who also was second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup when it was run at 1 1/2 miles. The Guineas mile should set St Nicholas Abbey up perfectly for the Epsom Derby.

In the meantime, O'Brien has every confidence in St Nicholas Abbey going a mile, telling the Sunday Times of London, "This horse has never, ever disappointed us in any way. Whatever we've asked, his answer has delighted us."

It is hoped that St Nicholas Abbey, or whoever wins at Newmarket on Saturday, will continue to delight us throughout the year. Recent history contains the seeds for that hope. The last 10 Guineas winners have gone on to win 16 Group 1 races, nine of those by the O'Brien-trained Henrythenavigator, George Washington, and Rock of Gibraltar. By comparison, the last 10 Kentucky Derby winners have won just eight Grade 1 races following the Derby, so maybe there is something to be said in favor of long winter vacations.