Japan bids to strengthen Aidan O’Brien’s grip on this year’s Investec Derby with victory in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.
O’Brien has already won four trials for the premier Classic in the last week – with new Epsom favourite Sir Dragonet’s dominant display in the Chester Vase followed by Circus Maximus in the Dee Stakes, Anthony Van Dyck in the Lingfield Derby Trial and Broome in the Derrinstown.
On the Knavesmire, the Ballydoyle handler relies on Japan – a horse who was also under consideration for the Derrinstown, but sidestepped that Leopardstown contest after a minor blip led to him having an easy week.
Japan has not been seen in competitive action since edging out stable companion Mount Everest in the Beresford Stakes at Naas last September.
O’Brien said: “He had a little setback, the same week as Anthony Van Dyck, so we were trying to give him as much time as we could.”
Godolphin hopes rest on the Charlie Appleby-trained Line Of Duty, who rounded off his juvenile campaign with three successive wins – completing his hat-trick in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs.
Appleby considered an early tilt at Classic glory in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, but eventually sided with a Derby trial.
He said: “I am pleased with his preparation and I am looking forward to stepping him up in trip. If he can finish in the first three I would be delighted.
“He is giving us all the indications that a step up in trip will hopefully see more improvement, which is going to be needed. Physically he has done well from two to three. He is a neat horse in size, but he has filled out in all the right places.
“It was always going to be the Dante to step him up in because – although you have the trials at Chester – the ones that stand out as trials to find a Derby horse are the Guineas and the Dante.
“I know there is only small field, but it was important to run him back on a turning track. I think if he is good enough in the Dante it will justify looking at the Derby – and if he is good enough to turn up in the Derby, I think it will be a track he enjoys.
“He likes the hustle and bustle – and as we saw in America, he doesn’t go down without a fight.”
Roger Varian is looking forward to saddling Surfman, who was a 14-length winner on his latest outing at Newcastle.
“We’ve always held him in the highest regard, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that he’s as good as we think he might be,” said Varian.
“He beat a poor field (at Newcastle), let’s be honest. He didn’t beat a lot, but he beat them 14 lengths on the bridle – and it did the horse good to get out there, get an away day from Newmarket.
“We didn’t learn much about him – we knew he was a nice horse, and he proved he was a nice horse. But we didn’t learn how nice he is. After his next start, we will do.
“He has worked well and he has come on for his run. He’s a highly promising colt – we’ve got high hopes for him going forward.”
Hughie Morrison is represented by the impressive Windsor scorer Telecaster.
Morrison told Sky Sports Racing: “We might be being a bit brave, but you’ve got to have a go some time, and this race fell at the right time.
“He’s the sort of horse that always goes well at home and finds it very easy.”
John Gosden’s champion juvenile Too Darn Hot is the star attraction and is joined by stablemate Turgenev.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Almania and Nayef Road from Mark Johnston’s yard complete the eight-strong field.