AFTER the convincing manner of Dawn Approach's 2,000 Guineas triumph a little more than a week ago and the likely defection of Kingsbarns from the Epsom Derby, Aidan O'Brien's hopes to follow the Derby win of Camelot last year looked to be weakening.
However, O'Brien has bounced back in emphatic style in the last week as the master of Ballydoyle has sent out four Derby trial winners in as many days, with Battle Of Marengo becoming the latest from the Tipperary dwelling to put forward strong claims.
At Chester last week, Ruler Of The World and Magician became more prominent features in the Derby betting, and, on Saturday, Nevis made a similar step following the Lingfield Derby Trial.
While the opposition in all three instances was modest, none of the trio could have been any more impressive.
Yesterday though at Leopardstown, Battle Of Marengo faced a Group One winner in Loch Garman and almost certainly the toughest assignment of any of the Ballydoyle contingent that have been asked Derby-related questions since the Guineas.
Unlike the previous three who were ridden by Ryan Moore, Joseph O'Brien was on board the Derby hopeful, who, before yesterday's Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, was quoted as a best-priced 11/2 and remains in and around that mark. William Hill is now the only firm standing that price, most cutting him to around the 4/1 or 5/1 mark.
Facing just three rivals, Battle Of Marengo still had plenty of work to do on paper, despite being a 2/13 favourite, as Jim Bolger's Loch Garman was a Group One winner in France. His task was made a little less interesting, however, as a dirty scope ruled out Andy Oliver's intriguing runner First Cornerstone.
However, Battle Of Marengo was a shade more comfortable than his length-and-three-parts victory suggested, and the trainer said: "It all went according to plan."
O'Brien has won the Epsom Derby, which takes place on the first Saturday of June, on three previous occasions, the most recent victory coming last year when his 19-year-old son Joseph guided Camelot to success in Flat racing's blue riband race.
The distance between Battle Of Marengo and Loch Garman was a length and three parts, so Jim Bolger will undoubtedly be able to assess how his son of Teofilo compares with Dawn Approach.
Likewise, O'Brien will also be able to gauge how much improvement will come from Battle Of Marengo's second run of the season.
O'Brien has won the Derrinstown with the likes of Galileo, High Chaparral, Dylan Thomas and Fame And Glory in the past, and added: "The owners will decide where to go next.
"He loves fast ground and we had to go on with him today or else the pace would have been very steady."
Bookmakers Boylesports make O'Brien a 1/1 chance to win the Epsom Derby next month and favourite Dawn Approach is now a 6/4 shot with that firm.
Yesterday at Leopardstown O'Brien also won the 1000 Guineas Trial with Just Pretending, who dug deep to hold off Hint Of A Tint.
She is now set to be aimed at the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh later this month.