Crystal Ocean aims to add to his straightforward victory at Sandown last time out in the Al Rayyan Stakes at Newbury.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained five-year-old, runner-up to stablemate Poet’s Word in the King George last season, won the Gordon Richards Stakes for a second time on his comeback.
It was much less effort this time, however, and his connections think he is an even better horse this season.
James Horton, Stoute’s assistant, said: “I thought he was more impressive at Sandown first time out this year than he was last year. He has definitely strengthened up and looks to be sharper than last year.
“We know he stays the mile and a half well, and this is a good stepping stone going forward.
“It was either here or travelling to Ireland for the Tattersalls Gold Cup and having a hard race. He is in good form, so fingers crossed it all goes smoothly. I would imagine Royal Ascot will be Plan A afterwards.”
Owen Burrows’ Laraaib looks the main danger. Winner of the Cumberland Lodge last term, he was third on his return behind Coronation Cup-bound Marmelo.
“He travelled really well on his comeback at Newbury when he was just about last off the bridle. I was pleased with that,” said Burrows.
“Since then I’ve been very happy with him at home, and this has been the plan ever since.
“What I hadn’t been planning on, though, was my old boss Sir Michael running Crystal Ocean – but I’m not going to run away from one horse, because this is the right race for us.”
Andrew Balding’s Pivoine looks to face a stiff task.
Balding said: “He has got a fair bit to find on ratings. We are stepping him up in trip, so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Getting the extra distance is the question he has really got to answer.”
The Al Zubarah London Gold Cup has been used as a path to Group races by many down the years, and Roger Charlton has fond memories of it.
Al Kazeem, Time Test and Imperial Aviator have all been successful for the Beckhampton handler since 2011.
This year he runs top weight Headman, in the Khalid Abdullah colours.
“Roger has a very good record in this – and we teamed up with Time Test to win it, which was nice. Headman is a different type, though,” said racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe.
“Obviously he created a big impression when winning at Newcastle on his debut – and then we were a bit disappointed when he was beaten by Zakouski at Kempton, although he was giving him 7lb and the winner looked good. We also dropped back to seven furlongs.
“He was a bit disappointing first time out this season, but you do tend to get exaggerated distances on soft ground.
“He came out of that fine, has been working well, and we hope this will put him back on the right road.”
Stoute runs Solid Stone in the same colours in which he was successful with subsequent Canadian International winner Cannock Chase in 2014.
Owner Saeed Suhail’s racing manager Bruce Raymond said: “I think this horse could take a similar route to Cannock Chase – I think he’ll go in that direction.
“You need a potential Group horse to win this usually. He’s working well and he’s got in improvement in him.”
Raymond also represents the interests of three other runners in the race.
“I like the horse Sinjaari as well (William Haggas). He seems to be improving quite a bit – he’s been a bit green but is getting it together now. I couldn’t split them.
“The two Mark Johnston horses, The Trader and Sky Defender, are just that bit more exposed than the other two – but Mark does like to run his nice horses in it.”
The Listed Haras de Bouquetot Fillies’ Trial Stakes was used by Haggas to let everybody know just how good Sea Of Class was last season, and this year he runs Sea Of Faith in the same silks.
She was a slightly unlucky fourth on debut after being left at the start and flying home to be fourth behind Sparkle Roll.
“It’s a big step up for her,” said Haggas.
“She is useful, and we need to know short-term targets. She is not as quick as Sea Of Class at all and more a galloping type.”
Roger Varian runs Lastochka, winner of her only start at Kempton last season.
“We liked her last year, and she has been working well this spring,” said the trainer.
“It is a tough race for her first assignment this year. I think she is a nice filly, though, and I would be hopeful of a good run.
“She took a little while to come to herself this spring, but I think she is ready to run now.
“We will see how she runs as on Saturday as to whether she is a Royal Ascot filly.”