St Nicholas Abbey

Career-ended St Nicholas Abbey – A Tribute


The thought of certain horses makes your blood rush, and St Nicholas Abbey is one of them. As a racehorse, he is a Breeders’ Cup Turf and three-time Coronation winner, a Dubai victor, a modern thoroughbred with almost £5 million in the kitty. But as an animal, he is a six-year-old son of Montjeu, a lithe bay horse with a high galloping action and rattling stride, a face narrow and refined as if Arab. He is a warrior down famous straights, has run into all sorts of famous names, and fame... well, it has come to him in all disguises since 2007. A Classics contender, a Breeders’ Cup hero, an Arc failure, a Frankel chaser, a Coronation legend.

A stricken racehorse.

Mid-last week, news trickled off the wire that St Nicholas Abbey had landed a ‘career-ending injury’ at Ballydoyle. It was the kind of news that floored horse racing, for this animal is one of the great sticking stories of our sport. Reports that he was injured wiped the King George of its banner entrant. But ‘injured’ didn’t quite cut what had happened in Tipperary. Nineteen screws, a plate in his pastern and a bone graft, and then word that colic complications had led to further surgery. How was it possible, I wondered, that I had never met this horse, but his fate had completely consumed my week?

It’s Tuesday evening as of writing, and St Nic, like his career, sticks on. It’s not surprising really. On the track, he had showed zero hints of tiring. He had sprung into 2013 with a clattering victory in the Sheema Classic at Meydan back in March, and followed it up with a history-making win in his third Coronation. But in a racing age where retirement falls at three for most of our ‘champions’, at the very most, four, this fellow, this six-year-old, was a blasting advertisement for training on. And his mileage said it all – twenty-one starts and five globetrotting seasons through Frankel, Snow Fairy, Danedream and Cirrus des Aigles, Sea Moon, Red Cadeaux, Nathaniel and Midday. An old-fashioned, well-seasoned marvel.

St Nicholas Abbey seems stained with that deep pot of Sadler’s Wells gold, the rare stuff that has lined the pipes of Europe’s best for decades. His damside is unremarkable. Leaping Water was an unraced English mare by the slick miler Sure Blade (who proved a pretty useless sire). She went to America for a brief stint, visiting mediocre stallions in matings that sounded nothing, until her half-brothers Aristotle and Ballingarry suggested she might do well on Sadler’s Wells. She did. Covered by Montjeu in 2006, she dropped St Nicholas Abbey on 13 April 2007, and he has gilted her name forever. Funny how a champion can do that. St Nicholas Abbey appears a one-hit wonder for Leaping Water, making him, as Tony Morris wrote in the ‘Racing Post’ back in 2009, ‘a faithful scion of the Sadler’s Wells tribe’.

If we can cling to recent optimism, St Nic will be a neon Montjeu at stud, and you can see why Coolmore has battled so hard to save him. But he was more to them than dollars and cents. He was a perennial, a stable favourite whose misfortune last week made Aidan O’Brien publicly sad, and that had nothing to do with him losing a King George favourite. Absolutely nothing.

There was something grand and glorious about unassuming St Nicholas Abbey, about his tremendous splaying stride, his narrow nose. And though the idea of a stricken racehorse is terrible, the picture of them on the ground unsettling because we know them at their strongest, their fastest, the idea of stricken St Nic was even worse. Somehow, this fellow, above most others, has really, really earned the oats of retirement.

(Picture above by author: St Nicholas Abbey before the 2012 Juddmonte)