08/27/2010 2:05PM

As usual, O'Brien plays it close to his vest


Sometimes reading the intentions of trainer Aidan O’Brien is like trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone. He will frequently nominate five or six horses to a Group 1 race, then a few days later say that only two of them will run, but that two others are “definite possibles.” Last week he was nearly as inscrutable about his intentions for St Nicholas Abbey.

Remember him? The Montjeu colt set the world alight with a mightily impressive victory in the Racing Post Trophy in October and was duly awarded the European 2-year championship. It was a performance that earned him favoritism for both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby and accolades that had some believing that he was the natural successor to Sea the Stars.

But we have seen little of St Nicholas Abbey as he has taken on the habits of a cloistered monk since his dull sixth behind Makfi as the even-money favorite in the 2000 Guineas on May 1. He suffered an unspecified setback while preparing for the Epsom Derby and was on the shelf for nearly three months until O’Brien reported from the inner sanctum of his Ballydoyle yard that he was back in training, having been cantering since the beginning of August.

O’Brien said that “St Nick” was preparing for a race toward the end of September. Speculation arose that it might be the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Sept. 25, but the guessing game grew more mysterious when his name was dropped into the hat on Friday for the Diamond Stakes on the Dundalk Polytrack on Oct. 1. That’s the “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, an event St Nicholas Abbey is hardly likely to contest. What his nomination to the 1 3/8-mile, Group 3 Diamond Stakes does suggest is that O’Brien may be thinking Breeders’ Cup Classic for him.

Of course, nominating to a race is one thing, running in it is another. Coolmore makes a habit of nominating as many horses as possible to as many races as possible. It is a form of marketing employed to keep the names of their stakes quality horses in front of potential breeders, and must almost always be taken with a grain of salt. St Nicholas Abbey is also nominated to the 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 16, a race for which he must require a prep. The Diamond at 1 3/8 miles on Polytrack would not be that race, but the Queen Elizabeth II might be. With O’Brien one can never be sure until the horse arrives at the track on raceday.

Prep choice for Fame and Glory

O’Brien is faced with a pleasant dilemma in choosing a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe prep for Fame and Glory. Ladbrokes’ 3-1 Arc favorite, he returned from an 11-week layoff to beat an overmatched bunch in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 2 Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh on August 8, and O’Brien is mulling either the Irish Champion Stakes or the Prix Foy as his Arc prep. The Irish Champion will be the Arc trial for O’Brien’s Irish Derby winner Cape Blanco.

The Aga Khan’s Grand Prix de Paris winner Behkabad, Ladbrokes’ 7-1 Arc second favorite, will take the traditional French 3-year-old’s route to the Arc in the Prix Niel, where he could be joined by Grand Prix and French Derby runner-up Planteur, whom Ladbrokes offers at 10-1 for the Arc.

Workforce, the seven-length winner of the Epsom Derby who flopped badly in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, is still under consideration for the Arc, for which he is 10-1 at Ladbrokes, but trainer Michael Stoute has been silent about a prep race.

Sariska, whose hissy fit left her standing in the gate in the Yorkshire Oaks last week, is on course for the Arc, for which she will prep in the Prix Vermeille. Yorkshire Oaks winner Midday is not being considered for the Arc but will use either the Vermeille, or more likely the Oct. 3 Prix de l’Opera, as a prep for a defense of her Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf title.

Sariska will run into Sarafina in the Vermeille. The undefeated French Oaks winner, trained like Behkabad by Alain de Royer-Dupre for the Aga Khan, she is pegged at 12-1 by Ladbrokes for the Arc with Sariska at 16-1. Byword, the winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes but only third in the Juddmonte International, will step up to 1 1/2 miles for the first time in the Prix Foy, the Arc prep for older horses in which he will meet the Canadian International bound winner of the United Nations Stakes, Chinchon, as well as Japanese Arc hopefuls Victoire Pisa and Nakayama Festa, and possibly Fame and Glory.

The Arc lost some of its luster Harbinger, 11-length winner of the King George, suffered a career-ending injury late last month. In fact, this year’s Arc could be lacking some of its usual sparkle, a situation which should make it an even better betting contest than usual.