O’Brien looking for more Epsom Derby back-up to Saxon Warrior

Ryan Moore will travel to Paris but Derby considerations are to the fore

This weekend’s action could see Aidan O’Brien’s grip on the Epsom Derby move from tight to overwhelming with a couple of other Classics potentially thrown in for good measure.

On Sunday Ireland’s champion trainer sends US Navy Flag to the Paris-Longchamp track for the French 2,000 Guineas. Last season’s top-rated European juvenile is accompanied by Could It Be Love who goes in the French 1,000. Both races are off at 2.35 and 3.15 respectively.

Ryan Moore will go to Paris to ride O'Brien's latest Classic contenders but it is Derby considerations which will otherwise be the weekend priority.

With three weeks to Epsom O’Brien has already been quoted by one firm at 1-5 to win racing’s ‘Blue Riband’ for a seventh time.

Last weekend’s Newmarket Guineas hero Saxon Warrior is odds-on himself in most betting lists and much of the rest of the betting suggests his most significant Derby opposition is likely to come from very close to home.

Kew Gardens could join Thursday’s Chester winner Rostropovich on the Epsom ticket if successful under Moore in Saturday’s Derby Trial at Lingfield. On the same card last weekend’s wide-margin Cork Flattering goes in the Oaks Trial.

However it is Sunday’s Derrintown Trial at Leopardstown which promises to be more informative. The Ballydoyle trio of Nelson, Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon filled the frame in last month’s Ballysax over the course and distance and are set to clash again.

It is a long 16-year gap since High Chaparral became the third Derrintown winner in a row to go on and win at Epsom.

But even with Thursday’s Dante at York still to come there looks to be a ‘best of the rest’ element to Sunday’s race in terms of potential challenges to Saxon Warrior.

Last year’s shock 40-1 Derby victory for Wings Of Eagles indicated how the Ballydoyle pecking-order isn’t flawless and there has been a persistent sense in Ballydole circles that if there is a middle-distance rival there to Saxon Warrior it is most likely The Pentagon.

He and Nelson are still joint-second favourites for Epsom despite Nelson finishing nine lengths in front of his stable companion in the Ballysax.

Moore rode The Pentagon on that occasion and even in the current spell of wet weather ground conditions are likely to be better this time. That may be crucial to the outcome being in The Pentagon’s favour.

Sunday’s other Classic trial is for the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Godolphin’s Mary Tudor can make light of dropping down a quarter mile from her Salsabil Stakes victory last month.

Mary Tudor has to reverse juvenile form with Magical but there was plenty to like about how she won at Navan while her old rival's own seasonal reappearance in France hardly set the world on fire.

Prior to that the classic focus will be on the Curragh’s Saturday fixture which sees a trio of three-year-olds take on their seniors in the Plusvital Blue Wind Stakes.

O’Brien has both Easter Lily and Bye Bye Baby as well as the top-rated five-year-old Clear Skies. However the most interesting contender looks to be Dermot Weld’s Jaega.

The Fastnet Rock filly made light of heavy ground on her Leopardstown debut to win by a wide margin and the third that day, Magic Wand, impressively won the Cheshire Oaks during the week.

Killarney gets its three-day May programme underway on Sunday. Willie Mullins has made 14 declarations for the opening session and will be represented in seven of the eight races.

They include three hopes for the Listed Mares Hurdle and Lagostovegas has a 146 rating that's hard to argue with. She looks a safer option than the keen-running four-year-old, Stormy Ireland.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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