John Gosden expects to have a clearer idea about Magisterial’s potential ambitions after Thursday’s Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.
The Clarehaven handler has saddled four previous winners of Britain’s most recognised Derby trial, including two subsequent Epsom heroes in Benny The Dip (1997) and Golden Horn (2015).
But while that pair had already won in stakes company prior to lining up on the Knavesmire, Magisterial faces a significant step up in class after a low-key comeback win at Leicester last month.
“He got the run of the race (at Leicester),” Gosden admitted. “This is the Dante – there’s always smart colts in there. And I think from that point of view, he deserves to take his chance – then we will know which way we want to go with him afterwards.”
The Frankel colt is set to face eight rivals in the hands of Frankie Dettori, with James Ferguson of the belief that his Group One-winning colt El Bodegon is “the one to beat”.
The three-year-old won three of his five starts as a juvenile last season, supplementing Group Three success at Chantilly with a top-level victory in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud in October.
The form of that 10-furlong contest could hardly have worked out better, with Aidan O’Brien’s runner-up Stone Age now favourite for the Cazoo Derby at Epsom next month, while the fourth home Buckaroo has since emerged as a leading contender for the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
Having been off the track since, El Bodegon was initially set to reappear in last weekend’s Prix Greffulhe – and while a minor setback meant he instead returns on the Knavesmire four days later, Ferguson has no worries about his fitness.
“I wouldn’t have declared him if I didn’t think he was 100 per cent. It was very minor and he’s A1,” said the Newmarket handler. “It’s very exciting and it will be good to get him out. There’s a long year ahead. He’s the only Group One winner in the field and we’ve beaten the Derby favourite.
“Stone Age looks progressive and has obviously done very well from two to three, but on paper you’ve got to be very happy with what we’ve got here in the yard. We’ve got to bear in mind that this is our first run of the season, but we’re going there with plenty of confidence.”
Having won in testing conditions in France, El Bodegon will encounter a quicker surface on Thursday, but Ferguson is happy to roll the dice with a horse who is 25/1 to claim Derby glory as things stand.
He added: “I honestly don’t think you can make these decisions (regarding ground) until you’ve actually tried it. We haven’t targeted soft ground, he can just handle it better than others. I think over the trip he’ll be fine. We’re looking forward to it and hopefully he can go there and put his best foot forward.
“If we want to go to a Derby, we’re going to have to give him a run. On paper and on form he’s the one to beat and it’s wonderful to have a horse running in a race like the Dante with a genuine chance.”
The likely favourite is the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Desert Crown, who has been a plunge horse in the Derby market in recent weeks despite only winning a Nottingham novice event to date.
Bruce Raymond, racing manager to owner Saeed Suhail, whose colours were carried to Derby glory by Stoute’s Kris Kin in 2003, said: “I guess we have to view him like that (with Derby potential). Sir Michael is bringing him along very gradually, a month ago you certainly wouldn’t have been thinking of winning any Derby but he’s coming to hand now.
“One thing about our horse is he’ll stay very well and whatever he does in the Dante, he’ll improve a lot for. He’d have to run well, but if he gets beat it doesn’t automatically mean he wouldn’t run in the Derby. It’s his first run, but should he run well we’d think about it. He will be a decent horse in time.”
Aidan O’Brien runs Bluegrass, fourth in the Ballysax Stakes on his reappearance and ridden by Ryan Moore, with the duo having mopped up most of the Derby trials to date.
Mark and Charlie Johnston’s Royal Patronage turns out less than two weeks after finishing down the field in the 2000 Guineas.
Charlie Johnston told Sky Sports Racing: “I was happy enough with the Guineas run, albeit we didn’t go there to finish eighth. If you look at the race a furlong and a half out, he’s in there pitching with Coroebus on one side and Native Trail on the other and by getting involved in the heat of battle, he’s then paid for it in the last 150 yards and faded in the dying strides.
“Physically and on pedigree and on his homework all spring, we presumed we’d be going up to these kind of trips this year and we’ll learn more in the Dante as to where we’re going to be for the rest of the year.”