04/28/2010 11:00PM

St Nicholas Abbey solid favorite

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St Nicholas Abbey puts his marquee reputation on the line when he faces 18 rivals in the 2000 Guineas Stakes on the straight Rowley Mile at Newmarket on Saturday. Three of the last five winners of the $608,000 classic have been trained by Aidan O'Brien, and in St Nicholas Abbey, he has the firm 11-8 favorite, according to odds offered by Ladbrokes.

St Nicholas Abbey had jaws dropping at Doncaster on Oct. 25 when he cruised to a 3 3/4-length victory in the one-mile, Group 1 Racing Post Trophy to extend his unbeaten streak to three. St Nicholas Abbey has been the favorite for the 2000 Guineas, the first leg of the English Triple Crown, since then and has done nothing in his early season homework to dispel the idea that he will be up to his Guineas task. Johnny Murtagh will guide him from post 12.

O'Brien will also run Viscount Nelson, a half-brother to juvenile Group 1 winner Horatio Nelson, and Fencing Master, who was second by a neck to Beethoven in the seven-furlong, Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes, a race whose form has not worked out.

Elusive Pimpernel was a well-beaten second in the Racing Post Trophy, but improved to win the Group 3 Craven Stakes by four lengths at Newmarket at the same distance as the Guineas on April 15. The 5-1 second choice, Elusive Pimpernel will break from the rail under Eddie Ahern.

The undefeated Awzaan won the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes and Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes in his last two starts at 2, both at six furlongs. Awzaan should stay the mile as he breaks next to Elusive Pimpernel in post 2.

Canford Cliffs, the six-length winner of the six-furlong, Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, will have his backers at 7-1, but he is suspect at the distance after having drifted badly left when second in the seven-furlong, Group 3 Greenham Stakes two weeks ago. The Greenham winner, Dick Turpin, benefited from Canford Cliffs's waywardness, but appears to be a sprinter at heart.

Hearts of Fire will be the sentimental favorite as the first 2000 Guineas runner for trainer Pat Eddery, who won this race riding Zafonic, El Gran Senor, and Lomond. A 25-1 shot, Hearts of Fire has not raced since winning the one-mile, Group 1 Gran Criterium at Milan last October. That day, he defeated subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vale of York by a neck.

French invader Makfi cannot be overlooked. He looked sharp making it 2 for 2 in the seven-furlong, Group 2 Prix Djebel at Maisons-Laffitte on April 8 and will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire.

The 2000 Guineas will be televised on HRTV. Post time is 10:05 a.m. Eastern.

* The $171,000 Prix du Muguet, Saint-Cloud's Group 2 May Day mile, has attracted the winners of both of last year's French Guineas in the colt Silver Frost and the filly Elusive Wave. Silver Frost has been away since finishing sixth to Goldikova in the Prix Jacques le Marois in August after being briefly retired, while Elusive Wave refused last time in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp.

* Gris de Gris is capable of repeating his April 4 victory in the Group 3 Prix Edmond Blanc.