Aidan O’Brien’s Australian import Merchant Navy faces classy sprinters Brando and Tasleet in the Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh on Saturday.
The winner of five of his eight races Down Under, the Fastnet Rock colt was beaten just a neck by Redkirk Warrior, who is one of the favourites for the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot, on his last outing.
O’Brien famously succeeded with another ex-Aussie runner in Starspangledbanner, who won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and July Cup in 2010.
Speaking when he hosted the media at his Ballydoyle stable last week, O’Brien said: “He has a lovely relaxed way of moving and has a lovely mind, which is always a bit of an advantage for a sprinter.
“He is going to be here for Ascot, but I’m not sure if he can be here for the July Cup as he has stallion obligations in Australia and has to be back in time to start for that.”
O’Brien also runs Spirit Of Valor and Intelligence Cross.
Despire being a six-year-old, Kevin Ryan’s Brando has been as good as ever this season in winning the Abernant Stakes and finishing second in the Duke of York.
He lost little in defeat behind the current sprint king over six furlongs, Clive Cox’s Harry Angel.
William Haggas’ Tasleet was supposed to run there after winning it last year, but met with an 11th hour setback.
A model of consistency last year, his only disappointment came in the July Cup but that was not the first time he had disappointed at Newmarket and Haggas has said he will not return there.
He was second in two Group Ones at Ascot and again at Haydock.
G Force was a Group One winner himself, but back in 2014 when with David O’Meara.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but Adrian Keatley has nursed him back into winning form recently, albeit in handicap company.
“He’s been running consistently well this year, he won the time before last and he was unlucky the last day,” said Keatley.
“Whether he’ll be in love with the ground will be the question mark, but he’s running for prize-money and hopefully he’ll run well.
“He’s in the Wokingham, but races like the Stewards’ Cup and the Ayr Gold Cup are likely to be his main targets.”
Ger Lyons’ Ardhoomey, Jim Bolger’s Smash Williams and Eddie Lynam’s new recruit from France, Fas, complete the field.
Michael O’Callaghan cannot split Recon Mission and Evasive Power in the Cold Move Irish EBF Marble Hill Stakes.
Recon Mission won a decent-looking Curragh maiden just over two weeks ago and will be ridden by Leigh Roche, who was on board both colts on their debuts.
Evasive Power was in action just a week ago when he caused a 22-1 surprise at Navan, beating colts with experience and defying his $4,000 price-tag.
“Obviously I’ve been very happy with them since they won, which is why they are running,” said O’Callaghan.
“I think they’ll both improve for the run again, too.
“Recon Mission will enjoy being on some better ground. It was quite heavy the day he ran at the Curragh but he came out of his race well.
“Evasive Power only ran a week ago but we were running out of time if we wanted another run into him before Royal Ascot. We were just keen to get two runs into him before Ascot as we think he’s a good colt.
“He’ll have improved mentally for a run. He’s come on a lot for that and came out of the race well. He’ll enjoy the ground and I’m looking forward to running him.
“They are two good colts and there’s nothing between them at home. I don’t have to say that to protect the owners either as I own them both!”
O’Brien is looking for an incredible 11th win in the race and was last successful two years ago with the brilliant Caravaggio.
The Ballydoyle handler this year runs Fairyland (Seamie Heffernan), Van Beethoven (Ryan Moore) and Land Force (Donnacha O’Brien).
Bolger’s unbeaten Goldrush runs in the Group Two Lanwades Stud Stakes.
By Frankel and out of Bolger’s brilliant mare Alexander Goldrun, she showed versatility in regards of trip last season, but meets a top-class rival in O’Brien’s Hydrangea.
Making Light, Xenobia, Nivvo and Opal Tiara also take their chance.