Ranger to learn plenty at Chester
As the clock ticks towards D-Day at Epsom in just over a month's time, Aidan O'Brien's tentative Derby favourite US Army Ranger gets the opportunity to enhance his credentials in this afternoon's MBNA Chester Vase.
The most crucial trials for the premier Classic invariably tend to take place in the short timespan that encompasses Saturday's 2,000 Guineas and next week's Dante Stakes at York.
O'Brien's Galileo colt heads the betting for what remains the world's most prestigious Flat race on the back of a likeable performance to score in relatively unspectacular style on its track bow at the Curragh last month.
Ruler Of The World took the same maiden en route to winning this prior to plundering the Derby in 2013.
Given that US Army Ranger is by a hugely influential sire that has produced three Derby winners and is out of Moonstone, which was second in the 2008 Oaks before winning the Irish version, it is hardly surprising that the layers aren't taking any chances. Invariably, there will be fluctuations aplenty as the Derby preamble unfolds.
It remains to be seen whether US Army Ranger's market pre-eminence ahead of the likes of Galileo Gold and Midterm, both of which have probably achieved more on the track, is justified.
However, whilst we might not learn an awful lot about US Army Ranger in today's 12-furlong Group Three as he faces five much less precocious rivals, US Army Ranger will doubtless learn an awful lot himself. That's imperative.
The manner of Somehow's Cheshire Oaks victory yesterday for O'Brien and Ryan Moore was another reminder of how valuable a Chester outing can be for educational purposes. US Army Ranger, similarly, has a lot to learn in a short space of time, but today's run should bring him forward no end.
O'Brien, who relies on Cook Islands and Housesofparliament in tomorrow's Dee Stakes, is also set to saddle Port Douglas in the Vase. He is a fair operator in his own right, but will likely be charged principally with setting the fractions here under Seamie Heffernan.
Another on today's spread that appeals at more generous odds is Top Notch Tonto in the Huxley Stakes.
Western Hymn, Cannock Chase and Gabrial look likely to figure here based on ratings, but each of those has something to prove as well.
Top Notch Tonto doesn't have that much to find at the weights. At his best, he has run well in Group One company, and he should come on for his Sandown return, when he looked like he blew up in a similar race. From an inside draw under Ben Curtis, he could provide a slight upset.