Rip can come up trumps for Murtagh on International duty
Ante-post favourite Rip Van Winkle heads Aidan O'Brien's quartet of runners during this afternoon's opening session of York's famous Ebor meeting as Irish-bred £50,000 supplementary entry Dick Turpin also goes up in distance for the £650,000 Juddmonte International.
A year ago compatriot Sea The Stars, which had previously outpaced Rip Van Winkle for the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, continued on his Group One-winning spree as the odds-on hotpot for the Juddmonte promotion to the delight of a massive York crowd.
Patrons are expected back in their droves to the Knavesmire again today when any further ease in the going, described as good at Sunday's declaration deadline, could complicate matters for a very competitive renewal of the extended mile-and-a-quarter showpiece.
This nine-runner contest has been sponsored since 1989 by renowned owner-breeder Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms operation, but remarkably the Saudi Arabian-born prince has never seen his world-famous colours carried to victory in the International.
That scenario could change dramatically this time should either lone French challenger Byword or Henry Cecil's stable star Twice Over, the principals in Royal Ascot's Prince of Wales' Stakes in June, step up on their best form in what promises to be a fascinating affair.
This proven pair, as well as the younger Dick Turpin, are the only horses supported to any great degree in the ante-post market to cope with Rip Van Winkle, whose sterling effort when narrowly defeated by Canford Cliffs over the Goodwood mile suggested Johnny Murtagh's mount is back in rude health.
The form is in the book to justify Murtagh's mount maintaining favouritism to the off over his eight rivals and joining Fame And Glory as Ballydoyle's prime candidates for the remaining middle-distance races at home and abroad in the coming months.
Mind you, it won't be easy for the Irish raider as Byword has plenty of tactical pace, as Andre Fabre's charge showed when Maxime Guyon got first run on Twice Over at Ascot, and Dick Turpin, which would relish any ease underfoot, is something of an unknown quantity at this trip.
Murtagh, incidentally, has been installed as 11/8 favourite to take the leading rider accolade this week in York ahead of Dick Turpin's pilot Richard Hughes (5/2) by Paddy Power, so the Irish champion needs to make the most of today's opportunities if he's to come up trumps.
Earlier on, his fluent Naas scorer Lake Ontario tackles a much tougher assignment in the Acomb Stakes with each-way claims at best before linking up with Irish Derby runner-up Midas Touch, which is accompanied by Joshua Tree for the Great Voltigeur Stakes.
A traditional trial for the English St Leger, this Group Two race sees Midas Touch and Mark Johnston's Monterosso, which was two-and-a-half lengths adrift in fourth in the premier Irish Classic, attempting to concede 3lb to their eight opponents, headed by Godolphin's Rewilding.
Frankie Dettori's former French-based mount had Midas Touch a couple of places behind when staying on well for third money behind Workforce in the English Derby, but hasn't been seen since and it is unclear whether that Epsom form will hold true on this occasion.
Despite his Group penalty, Midas Touch should strip a little fitter and leaner than stable companion Joshua Tree, which is making a belated seasonal return today after a couple of minor setbacks encountered since landing the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot last autumn.
In common with Lake Ontario's Acomb Stakes mission, Rip Van Winkle and Midas Touch would not have their prospects enhanced by any significant rainfall overnight, so it might be advisable to hold fire on backing them until the opening sprint handicap has been run.
2.15 -- Dream Ahead
2.50 -- Midas Touch
3.25 -- Rip Van Winkle