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St Nicholas Abbey, Point of Entry set for Turf duel

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For many, the most heavily anticipated duel at this week's Breeders' Cup will come in the $3 million Turf where last year's winner, Irish raider St Nicholas Abbey, vies with local hope Point of Entry.

Point of Entry will break from the inside one spot as the 3-1 choice in Saturday's race at Santa Anita Park where Aidan O'Brien-trained St Nicholas Abbey is the second choice at 7-2, from the third post.

Though St Nicholas Abbey finished a disappointing 11th out of 18 runners in extremely soft conditions at the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe earlier this month, O'Brien expects a very different result at Santa Anita.

"I think it is safe to say you can put a line through his last run in the Arc," O'Brien told reporters while preparing his horses for the annual two-day racing carnival.

"(Jockey) Joseph (O'Brien) knew after a furlong or so that the horse was in trouble on that ground, and did his best to look after the horse as well as he could. Hopefully it will be a different story on quicker ground here."

O'Brien, who is the son of trainer Aiden, will be back on board St Nicholas Abbey on Saturday as the duo aim to replicate their impressive win in the Turf at Churchill Downs last year.

Aged just 18, O'Brien became the youngest jockey to win a Breeders' Cup race as he piloted the Irish horse to victory by two and one-quarter lengths over English raider Sea Moon.

"It's a dream come true," the younger O'Brien said of their Turf triumph. "Obviously, looking at all the big names and the big horses winning the best races around the world, it's something I have dreamed about since I was very small."

In Point of Entry, however, Joseph O'Brien and St Nicholas Abbey will face an outstanding American prospect widely regarded as the one of best U.S. runners on turf in recent years.

"He's a great horse on the dirt, but to breeze him on the turf, he's a different horse," said assistant trainer Jennifer Patterson, who has been exercising Point of Entry this week at Santa Anita.

"He'd probably run a good race on the dirt, but he's a different class on the turf.

"In his last race in the Joe Hirsch (Turf Classic), it was soft turf, and he didn't like it at all, but he still did what he had to do to win. That's the sign of a good horse."

Patterson has been working with Point of Entry because the horse's regular trainer, Shug McGaughey, had his journey to California from New York delayed due to the havoc caused by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast.

St Nicholas Abbey, meanwhile, heads a strong European contingent of 26 horses who have made the long trip out to the West Coast of the United States for the Breeders' Cup, billed as the world championship of thoroughbred racing.

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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