No form to go on here in a field full of juvenile debutants, and the market will reveal more near the off, but it is interesting that Aidan O’Brien had five horses entered at the five-day stage, and he relies solely on LIPIZZANER. A son of up-and-coming American sire Uncle Mo, out of an Australian 1000 Guineas winner, it is no surprise he cost $650,000 as a yearling, and makes plenty of appeal on paper. Gauging how far forward O’Brien has his juveniles at this stage of this early stage of the year is always tricky, but it is worth noting that his first four two-year-olds all won on their first start last year, and Lipizzaner looks a likely type.
This doesn’t look the strongest race of its type, and it will be interesting to see how some of the newcomers fare in the market, particularly Eshtiya, but ready preference is for KNIGHT OF MALTA. A typically well-bred sort – out of the yard’s Oaks winner Was – Knight of Malta showed ability when finishing fourth in a back-end maiden over course and distance in October. The fact he started at odds of 16/1 on that occasion suggests he was expected to improve for the experience and, though it is a slight concern that connections keep him to this sprint trip on return given the stamina in his pedigree, he could be the sort to take a big step forward now.
Enjoyed a productive start to last season, winning two times around this time last year and, having ended the campaign with a couple of consistent displays, MOKHALAD could well be the answer on return from his reduced mark, with the booking of Colin Keane catching the eye. Arcanears and Dark Vader are others fancied to feature.
Johnny Murtagh’s runners continue in good form and CAMACHITA could be worth chancing to make a successful return. She landed the odds in good style in a maiden at Dundalk in October, and showed useful form when fourth in the Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown last time, possibly finding test too much in heavy ground. Conditions and the trip are fine here and she could have more to offer this term. Hong Kong, who holds a Guineas entry, is bred to be much better than a mark of 88 now starting out in three-year-old handicaps and looks an obvious danger.
SIR DRAGONET didn’t make his debut until April last year, but after winning his first two starts, he was sent off the 11/4 favourite for the Derby at Epsom less than two months later. He could only finish fifth there, but he was beaten less than a length by stablemate Anthony Van Dyck, and that form stands out in the context of this race. Admittedly, he takes a significant drop in trip having contested the St Leger at Doncaster on his final start last season, but he also takes a drop in class, and he doesn’t lack gears. Sir Dragonet won’t have to be fully wound up to make an impact here and he is a confident selection, a lightly-raced four-year-old who should have even more to offer this year.
Ger Lyons and Colin Keane have a good record together at Naas and EVEN SO looks a potentially smart filly. A well-bred sort, she very much caught the eye on debut when third to the reopposing Blissful on debut at Tipperary in August, and duly built on that when opening her account in good style at Gowran the following month. That race hasn’t worked out all that great, but the manner of her performance was the main thing to take away, and she has the physique to develop into an even better three-year-old. Even So will be suited by middle distances later in the year, but she still holds an entry in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, and this looks a good starting point.
RUSSIAN EMPEROR has an eye-catching pedigree – out of a multiple Group 1 winner in Australia – and he shaped well when third to a potentially smart stablemate on debut at the Curragh in July. It is a slight concern that we didn’t see him after, but the fact he makes his reappearance so early in the year is encouraging, and Russian Emperor looks a big player here. The step up to a mile will suit on pedigree and he could prove a tough nut to crack in what looks a good-looking race.
*All odds correct at time of publication