Roaring Lion set to thwart O'Brien's bid for Dante glory
Aidan O'Brien makes a two-pronged attack on the Group Two Dante Stakes at York today (3.30) but faces a stiff task if he is to secure his fifth victory in the traditional Epsom Derby trial.
It's 20 years since his first win in the race and James Cook, with Ryan Moore up, and Seamie Heffernan's mount Zabriskie must improve on their fourth and sixth respectively at Epsom last month if they are to become part of O'Brien's Derby ticket.
"We'll see whether they've progressed and whether they've gone forwards or backwards. We'll give them the chance to book their ticket for Epsom," the Ballydoyle maestro said.
"We'll hold back some horses for Ascot, but obviously the Derby is the race everyone will be looking at. We have Saxon Warrior, but we need to have back-ups in case things don't work out like we hope."
John Gosden's Roaring Lion is the likely favourite having finished a neck behind Saxon Warrior in last year's Racing Post Trophy, although Oisín Murphy's mount has been turned over twice this season when third in the Craven and fifth in the 2,000 Guineas.
Bred to stay, there was a lot to like about how he finished his race at Newmarket while Gosden also saddles the well-regarded Crossed Baton. Tim Easterby's Wells Farhh Go is another interesting contender with connections admitting that they have resisted offers to sell the three-year-old.
"He wants a mile and a half really. He is in good form. I'm very happy with how he looks. Basically, it's his first run of the season and a stepping stone to the future. He's a big, rangy horse and he will improve as the season goes along," Easterby said.
There is also Irish interest in the Group Two Middleton Stakes (2.55) with Jim Bolger's mare Turret Rocks but Royal Ascot Ribblesdale Stakes Coronet is the star attraction for Gosden and Frankie Dettori.
Jessica Harrington will look to continue her fine form of late with Brick By Brick in the Westow Stakes, a race which also sees the return of O'Brien's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Declarationofpeace.
Meanwhile, Give And Take (7/2) claimed top honours in the Musidora Stakes on the Knavesmire yesterday and was subsequently cut to as low as 12/1 for next month's Epsom Oaks.
Frankie Dettori sent market leader Highgarden to the front from the off, but her goose was cooked entering the final furlong as William Haggas's charge benefited from a James Doyle drive to score by a length from Dancing Brave Bear.
Willie Mullins will saddle the versatile pair of Max Dynamite and Wicklow Brave in the Yorkshire Cup at the same venue tomorrow as the Closutton handler bids for further success on the level.
Melbourne Cup third Max Dynamite was victorious in the Lonsdale Cup at York three years ago and reverts to the Flat with Moore aboard after flopping over hurdles at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals.
Andrea Atzeni gets the nod for Wicklow Brave, which is also changing codes after finishing second to Supasundae when attempting to defend his crown in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
Elsewhere, Michael Bell has described Big Orange's leg injury as a "body blow" after the Ascot Gold Cup winner was ruled out for the season.