Wedged in the middle of the Spring jumps festivals calendar is this weekend’s kick-off to the Irish flat season along with other signals of the upcoming switch of focus between the codes.
The first Group 1 sign comes in the early hours of Saturday morning when Joseph O’Brien’s Cleveland lines up for the Tancred Stakes (5.40am) at the Rosehill track in Sydney.
The Irish hope, part of a small but select O’Brien team at the Sydney Autumn Carnival, will be ridden by top local jockey Kerrin McEvoy.
Later in the day a Ballydoyle trio will try to scoop up some of the $31.5 million in prize money up for grabs at Meydan’s Dubai World Cup fixture.
None of them line up in the 27th renewal of the $12 million World Cup itself, due off at 4.35 Irish-time and live on ITV.
However, Cairo is fancied in the Group 2 UAE Derby (1.50) while Broome is upped to two miles for the Dubai Gold Cup (12.40) and Order Of Australia takes his chance in the Dubai Turf at 3.10.
The other Irish contender at Meydan is Johnny Murtagh’s Ladies Church who takes her chance under Ben Coen in the Al Quoz Sprint at 1.15.
Back home Murtagh has three shots at repeating last year’s Paddy Power Irish Lincolnshire success with Raadobarg in the Curragh’s opening day €100,000 feature.
His colleague Ado McGuinness numerically trumps everyone with nine of the 27 in the famous old handicap, as well as a reserve.
A fortnight out from Fairyhouse’s Easter festival – and just a week after Cheltenham – it almost jars to consider Aidan O’Brien’s prime classic hopefuls, Little Big Bear and Auguste Rodin, being among a Ballydoyle battalion set to gallop after racing on Saturday.
There is an online €25 admission offer for both the Curragh and the weekend’s other flat fixture at Naas on Sunday.
The summer game’s international element will be underlined at Naas where Ryan Moore is on duty with three rides for O’Brien.
The partnership has already struck on the global stage this year through Order Of Australia’s success in Doha last month.
Moore’s own trek to Sydney last weekend paid off in spades with victory in Australia’s most coveted two-year-old-race, the Golden Slipper, as well as another Group 1 on Dubai Honour for William Haggas.
In comparison, a 7,700 kilometre dash from Dubai to Naas is small fry for the Englishman who has seven rides at Meydan.
Cairo looks to hold the best chance of the O’Brien trio in a race Ireland’s champion trainer has won three times before, the last with Mendelssohn in 2018. Victory here could earn a tilt at the Kentucky Derby in May.
Moore’s services have been snapped up for last year’s Irish Derby hero Westover in the Sheema Classic (4.00) but that’s a race which underscores Japan’s ever-expanding influence at the top of the global pecking order.
Last year’s winner Sharyar is back to defend his title but perhaps the best horse in Japan, Equinox, is hot favourite to make a successful first overseas start.
Winner of the prestigious Armin Kinen in Tokyo on Christmas Day, Equinox beat Panthalassa in October’s Tenno Sho race.
The latter, successful in the Turf at Meydan a year ago, subsequently won last month’s Saudi Cup and is among a massive eight-strong team of Japanese starters in Saturday’s feature.
Moore is on one of the outsiders, Jun Light Bolt, in a race where Frankie Dettori will try to repeat his 2022 success with the US star Country Grammar.
With retirement looming at the end of the season, it will be the Italian’s last chance to secure a record fifth win in the race.
“This year there’s more strength in depth. There’s eight Japanese runners, multiple Group 1 winners and a big field.
“One thing for sure with Country Grammer is that he’s all about leaving everything on the track. You know he’s going to run until the end so I couldn’t ask for a better companion,” Dettori commented.
Country Grammar is in stall 14 of the 15 runners with Panthalassa and the progressive English hope Algiers either side.
Those wide draws could prove significant on a number of levels, including how it might let the Japan Cup winner, and top-rated in the race, Vela Azul, comparatively loose from a middle stall.