Elm can cast shadow over high-quality Dante rivals
Aidan O'Brien tends not to target the Dante Stakes with his leading Derby contenders but the York Group Two could today decide the destinies of both John F Kennedy and Ol' Man River.
Both horses disappointed badly on their seasonal bows, so the Ballydoyle maestro's hand is being forced a little as he is running out of options ahead of the June 6 Classic at Epsom.
Two choicely-bred colts, John F Kennedy and Ol' Man River had the world at their feet after their respective juvenile campaigns.
Given that John F Kennedy was beaten on his debut last year, maybe we shouldn't be too concerned about his tame defeat when third to Success Days and Zafilani on his reappearance in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown, not least in light of the fact that both horses have won since.
Nonetheless, the manner in which the son of Galileo went backwards rather than forwards for pressure was alarming. He might leave that behind today under Ryan Moore, but you are taking a lot on trust with him at this stage. Ol' Man River, a son of Montjeu, never rose a gallop when the pressure came on in the 2,000 Guineas.
Joseph O'Brien's mount had looked sharp in winning both of his two-year-old outings, so it was surprising to see him perform so lifelessly at Newmarket. O'Brien has a record of turning horses inside out from seemingly hopeless seasonal bows, so it is entirely conceivable that one or both will figure prominently now.
He last won this in 2010 with Cape Blanco, a horse that swerved Epsom despite soundly beating the eventual Derby hero Workforce on the Knavesmire.
The Grey Gatsby triumphed in 2014 before going on to great things, but this is possibly the strongest edition of the 10-furlong contest for some time.
Somewhat inexplicably, John Gosden's Jack Hobbs is the ante-post favourite for the Derby, having so far done no more than scoot clear in a Sandown handicap off a mark of 85, following a Wolverhampton success on his sole outing at two. Maybe he is all that, but he has a more on his plate under Frankie Dettori now.
Elm Park follows him in the Derby betting. On pedigree, Andrew Balding's Phoenix Reach colt is another slightly unlikely contender, but, on paper, his credentials are the most solid.
Third at Sandown first time out last year, he then won a maiden, a Listed race, a Group Two and a Group One, signing off with a straightforward Racing Post Trophy success. The Doncaster third, Celestial Path, has come out and finished fifth in the Guineas, so the form reads quite well.
More than that, though, it was the manner of Elm Park's victory that impressed. He made much of his own running before responding gamely for Andrea Atzeni to win going away with his ears pricked.
In short, Elm Park is an honest, likeable individual that probably should be heading the market for the Derby. I'd venture that later today, he will be.
In the preceding Group Two Middleton Stakes, Moore and Michael Stoute get the nod to collect with Bragging, which re-opposes Gosden's Belle D'Or, 11 days after comprehensively beating her at Newmarket.
Gosden and Dettori are expected to collect with Tendu in the Listed Westow Stakes. This is an open five-furlong contest comprising 11 runners, but Tendu has bundles of potential.
Khalid Abdullah's filly was fifth in the Cheveley Park Stakes after winning her maiden at Kempton last year.
On her recent reappearance at Ascot, she caught the eye when keeping on for second to the unbeaten Limato, which is a pretty hot piece of form.
Of Gordon Elliott's delegation at Perth, apart from the odds-on Antilope Du Seuil, Seeyouallincoppers and Western Home appeal as live contenders under Richard Johnson.