Three of the first four home in the Investec Derby renew rivalry in what promises to be a fascinating renewal of the Coral-Eclipse on Saturday.
The 10-furlong showpiece traditionally gives middle-distance three-year-olds a first opportunity to test their powers against their elders and this year’s renewal is no exception.
Charlie Appleby’s Masar claimed Derby glory at Epsom a month ago, beating John Gosden’s Roaring Lion into third and Aidan O’Brien’s red-hot favourite Saxon Warrior into fourth.
With Saxon Warrior surprisingly sent into battle again just seven days after finishing third in the Irish Derby, the trio will cross swords once more in the Sandown sunshine.
Appleby, who also saddles 2016 Eclipse hero Hawkbill, said: “We’re very pleased with both our horses. Their preparation has gone well and we’re looking forward to what should be great race.
“Masar seems in great form. I don’t think being drawn in stall one is going to a problem, as it looks like there’s enough pace in the race.”
Masar had the option of running in the Irish Derby, but instead drops in distance for what will be a third clash of the season with Saxon Warrior, having finished third behind the Ballydoyle inmate in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Appleby added: “The Irish Derby was there, but coming back in trip was never going to be a worry.
“One thing William (Buick) said after the Guineas was that he felt like a 10-furlong horse against milers.
“I go in there very confident with the horse that we’ve got and he has got form around there.
“I don’t think you can get a nicer profile going into any Group One race, whether it be a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half.”
Hawkbill will be a big price to regain his crown, but Appleby feels he should not be dismissed lightly and insists he is not running purely as a pacemaker for his better-fancied stablemate.
“He’s a previous winner of the race and he’s there genuinely on his merits,” said the Newmarket handler.
“People will say he’s only there for a pace angle, but if something else wants to go on we’re quite happy to take a lead with Hawkbill.
“Having said that, if there isn’t much pace on we know what Hawkbill is good at, so we’ll see.
“He’s in good order and if he’s on his A-game I think he’ll test the three-year-olds, which is what it’s all about.”
Roaring Lion has finished behind Masar in the Craven Stakes, the 2000 Guineas and the Derby this season.
However, on his only start to date over a mile and a quarter he ran out an impressive winner of the Dante Stakes at York.
Gosden said: “He (Masar) is a legitimate favourite. He has won a Craven and it is not like he needs a mile and a half.
“He ran great in the Guineas. I think the Guineas is the best form, so to that extent we’ve got it all to do, but we know a mile and a quarter on top of the ground suits us.”
O’Brien is triple-handed in his bid to saddle a joint-record sixth Eclipse winner and reiterated he will be observing Saxon Warrior closely in the lead-up to the race, but is happy to come back in distance with his star.
He said: “Obviously he hasn’t done anything since (Irish Derby) and we’ll watch him closely all the way up to the race, but he seems to have taken it well.
“We won’t really know until we run him, but he seems very well.”
Saxon Warrior is joined by his year-older stablemate Cliffs Of Moher, who was third in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot a fortnight ago, and Happily, who receives all the allowances as a three-year-old filly.
So far this season Happily has finished third in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh, as well as a close-up fourth in the French Oaks at Chantilly.
O’Brien added: “Happily is in good form. She had a very good run the last day and we’re looking forward to seeing her run.
“Cliffs Of Moher ran well in Ascot last time and we still think we haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’s been in good form since then.”
The Richard Fahey-trained Forest Ranger is unbeaten in two starts this season, following up his comeback victory in the Earl of Sefton at Newmarket with an assured display in the Huxley Stakes at Chester.
Fahey said: “Forest Ranger is in excellent form. He needs to step up on what he has achieved during his career so far, but he has won well on both of his starts this year.
“He should be a 20-1 shot and that probably reflects his chance, but he goes on any ground and we hope he is an each-way player.
“It’s a big ask, but whatever happens on Saturday, we’ll be finding out a bit more about him.”