Bumper crowd expected as Naas offers free entry to ‘Trials’ card that does what it says on the tin

Frankie Dettori aiming to land first American classic on board Bob Baffert trained Imagination in Preakness Stakes

Wedged in the middle of the current classic programme is a potential signpost to next year’s campaign as Naas hosts its Royal Ascot ‘Trials’ card on Sunday.

Celebrating its centenary year, Naas is giving free entry to one of its highlight fixtures, live on both RTÉ and ITV, which can’t be accused of failing to do what it says on the tin.

Sunday’s opener was won last year by River Tiber who proceeded to land the Coventry Stakes a month later. Porta Fortuna landed the Group Three Coolmore Fillies Stakes in 2023 and a few weeks later emerged on top in the Albany Stakes at Ascot. Meditate did the same double in 2022.

Not only that but in the previous decade a trio of subsequent classic heroines – Mother Earth (2020), Alpha Centauri (2017) and Sky Lantern (2012) – were victorious in the €70,000 feature contest. An anticipated attendance of up to 4,000 can relish a six-runner renewal this time.


Ballydoyle’s runner Fairy Godmother was noticeably well backed to deliver in style on her course and distance debuts last month only to come up short against Sparkling Sea.

It appeared a fair indication of merit at the time and Sparkling Sea’s trainer, Ger Lyons, left no doubt he anticipated his Moyglare Stud-owned filly will step up significantly for the experience. Lyons also saddles the Dundalk winner Proudly Yours.

Jessica Harrington’s team could hardly be in better form although Barnavara will encounter different ground conditions compared with her impressive Curragh debut.

Elsewhere, last year’s Phoenix Stakes winner, Bucanero Fuerte, brings Group One glitz, and a heady 120 rating, to his first start of the season in Sunday’s other Group Three, the Lacken Stakes.

Trainer Adrian Murray, alongside key Brazilian horseman Robson Aguiar, is targeting Ascot with the AMO Racing-owned colt, who drops back to the minimum trip.

“He’s in good form and the ground won’t be an issue for him. The aim is to go back to Royal Ascot and Sunday will hopefully leave him spot on. To have a horse like this is a bit nerve-racking. It’s an exciting day for the yard and this is a meeting we’ve been looking forward to for a long time to get him back out,” Murray reported.

Ryan Moore is on Military in the Lacken among a handful of rides for Aidan O’Brien on Sunday. Both Treasure Isle and Aesop’s Fables are likely to start favourite while Air Commander could secure his own Ascot place in a mile handicap.

Having flown to Leopardstown on Friday evening to ride Kyprios in the Savel Beg Stakes, Moore is on Saturday duty at Newbury, where he teams up with Chantilly for O’Brien in a valuable handicap.

He is also on Hi Royal for Kevin Ryan in the Group One Lockinge Stakes, which is set to feature a mouth-watering older horse clash between Inspiral and the French star Big Rock.

It’s all a rare hiatus in a frantic classic schedule with the Curragh completing the Guineas programme next week, and the Oaks and Derby taking place at Epsom shortly afterwards.

At the end of the major trials, City Of Troy’s status as Derby favourite looks to have been only cemented despite his Guineas flop at Newmarket.

With indications that Thursday’s impressive Dante winner, Economics, will skip Epsom, and Godolphin’s Arabian Crown ruled out, City Of Troy has hardened to 2-1 favourite with some firms. His stable companion Ylang Ylang is market leader for the Oaks on Friday week.

Saturday’s domestic feature is Navan’s Yeats Stakes, where Wayne Lordan has opted for Gasper De Lemos over The Equator.

The form of the latter’s defeat of Oretlius at Leopardstown was boosted last weekend and Dylan Browne McMonagle could fancy his chances of a successful ‘spare.’

There is still an international classic element to the weekend action though, as Pimlico in Baltimore hosts the second leg of the US Triple Crown, the $2 million Preakness Stakes, on Saturday night.

Mystik Dan is a likely to favourite to follow up his dramatic Kentucky Derby success a fortnight ago and is set to face seven opponents, one of which is the Frankie Dettori ridden Imagination.

Earlier in the week, trainer Bob Baffert was forced to scratch his No. 1 Preakness hope Muth but he still has the Morning Line second favourite in Imagination.

Dettori, yet to win an American classic, was runner up on him in the Santa Anita Derby and the Italian veteran reported: “The horse has been good to me. We won the San Felipe and were second in the Santa Anita Derby. He’s a solid horse who has never been out of the top two. I’m riding for a Hall of Fame trainer in Bob Baffert and I’m very excited.”

The Preakness is scheduled to be off a minute after midnight on Sky and Virgin Media Two.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column