Stable companions Gustav Klimt and US Navy Flag do battle in the Ballylinch Stud 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown on Saturday.
Gustav Klimt has not been seen in competitive action since winning the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last July, but is the preferred mount of Ryan Moore in this seven-furlong Listed contest.
US Navy Flag brings stronger form the table, having struck Group One glory in the Middle Park and the Dewhurst at Newmarket as a juvenile, and will be ridden by Seamie Heffernan on his first start since disappointing at the Breeders’ Cup in November.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien said: “Gustav Klimt is in good form and is just ready to start. Hopefully he’ll come on plenty for the run.
“He missed the second half of last year and hasn’t been out in a long time.
“US Navy Flag is in good form, too, and is just ready to start as well. Obviously we’d prefer better ground, but we just want to get him out. He seems to be in good form.”
Gustav Klimt and US Navy Flag are both as short as 7-1 for the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 5, with fellow Ballydoyle inmate Saxon Warrior the 5-1 favourite.
O’Brien has a third string to his bow this weekend in the unexposed Kenya (Donnacha O’Brien), who won the Killavullan Stakes over this course and distance and is 33-1 for next month’s Rowley Mile Classic.
The four-strong field is completed by the Dermot Weld-trained Imaging, who does at least have the benefit of race fitness after making an impressive start to the campaign in a conditions race at Cork.
“We are looking forward to returning to Leopardstown this weekend and Imaging takes his chance in the 2,000 Guineas Trial,” said Weld.
“He is very versatile ground-wise and I have been happy with the horse since Cork.”
O’Brien saddles a quartet of runners in the Ballylinch Stud ‘Priory Belle’ 1,000 Guineas Trial.
Moore has sided with I Can Fly over Actress (Donnacha O’Brien), Butterscotch (Heffernan) and Sarrocchi (Wayne Lordan).
O’Brien said: “I Can Fly is in good form. She had a couple of runs last year at Dundalk and Newmarket and we’re happy with her.
“Actress is in good form as well, but obviously she would prefer better ground. She’s just ready to start as well and we’ll find out if she gets seven (furlongs) or further. She’s never run that far before.
“Butterscotch has form with ease in the ground. How much further than seven she’ll stay, I’m not sure, but she’s ready to start.”
“Sarrocchi won a maiden at the backend in easy ground. She’s in good form but will also improve a lot from the run.”
A competitive 14-strong field also features Jessica Harrington’s Alpha Centauri, Richard O’Brien’s Madrid Handicap scorer Dianthus and Weld’s Yulong Gold Fairy, who rounded off her juvenile campaign with a runaway success in a valuable sales race at Naas.
Richard O’Brien said: “Dianthus has certainly been pleasing me since her run at Naas last month. When Chris Hayes got off her that day his exact words were ‘she’s a Guineas Trial filly all day long’, so we’ve given her the entry as she is in good form.
“We know she’ll handle the ground conditions. It’s nice to be making entries for this calibre of race.”
Weld said of Yulong Gold Fairy: “She is coming back nicely, she’s a nice filly and I expect her to run a good race.
“However, although we have had a few nice winners already this season, Yulong Gold Fairy would be like most of mine and will be better with some sunshine on her back but she’s well, she’s coming forward and I expect her to run a nice race.”
Aidan O’Brien has won the Ballysax Stakes seven times, with subsequent Epsom Derby heroes Galileo (2001) and High Chaparral (2002) among those on the roll of honour, as well as the mighty stayer Yeats (2004).
This year he is represented by Nelson (Donnacha O’Brien), The Pentagon (Moore) and Delano Roosevelt (Heffernan).
O’Brien said: “The Pentagon is in good shape and is ready to start. Obviously he doesn’t want that kind of ground, but we just want to get him started.
“Nelson might handle the ground. He handles an easy and will stay well. He’s in good form as well.
“Delano Roosevelt will handle an ease in the ground, is in good form and is ready to start off as well.”
Weld has also claimed the Group Three prize a joint-record seven times, most recently with his dual Derby winner of 2016, Harzand.
This year the master of Rosewell House relies on Burgundy Boy, who has his work cut out on ratings on what is his first start since moving from Sheila Lavery’s yard.
Weld said: “This is a nice horse, a good-actioned horse, and he would be the most backward of the three runners in the trial races.
“I would expect him to come forward a good bit from the run. He will be a top of the ground horse.”
The Ger Lyons-trained Lethal Steps is the other participant.