Hughie Morrison believes Melbourne Cup runner-up Marmelo may still be improving as he prepares to take his chance in the Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom.
Morrison, who also has a live chance in the Derby 24 hours later with the supplemented Telecaster, was slightly surprised the six-year-old entire had enough pace to win over a mile and a half on his return to action at Newbury.
That convinced connections to have a crack at a Group One, after coming so close to a place in the history books in November.
“We might have wanted a bit more rain, but the ground shouldn’t be too quick on Friday,” said Morrison.
“It could be a case that he’s getting quicker. I’m a great believer that a horse should be improving up to the age of six, if you can keep them sound – but that is obviously difficult.
“Epsom might not be the perfect track for him, but we’ve decided to have a go at the top level over a mile and a half, in the knowledge that if it doesn’t work out and he’s still in one piece, we’ve got a very nice silver lining.”
It was Charlie Appleby’s Cross Counter who beat Marmelo in Australia, and the Godolphin trainer is represented on this occasion by Old Persian – winner of the Sheema Classic in Dubai in March.
“We have been pleased with Old Persian’s preparation – and the ground should be perfect for him, because he has shown a high level of form on a quick surface,” Appleby told Godolphin’s website.
“He has progressed nicely from three to four, and a performance similar to the one he produced in the Dubai Sheema Classic will make him a major player.
“If anything, we feel that Old Persian might have become quicker this year, and the way he travels through his races suggests that Epsom Downs will play to his strengths.”
Old Persian disappointed in last year’s St Leger, a race won by Aidan O’Brien’s Kew Gardens – who was surprisingly beaten on his return to action at Chester by Morando.
“It was always the plan to go to Chester to make sure he was OK on a left-handed track – because when he ran at Epsom last season he was a bit disappointing,” said O’Brien when speaking at Breakfast with the Stars earlier this month.
“We’ve been very happy with him since Chester, and the Coronation was always the plan.”
Lah Ti Dar was second in the St Leger and began her campaign with victory over an extended 10 furlongs at York.
“Lah Ti Dar was running over very much a minimum trip at York, but she got the job done,” said her trainer John Gosden, who was always aiming for this race.
Gosden was due to have another runner in Coronet, but she was taken out on Thursday morning.
In this race 12 months ago Sylvester Kirk’s Salouen nearly caused a huge shock when pushing Cracksman close, and he has hopes of going one better after a reappearance win at Ascot.
Kirk said: “That win can only have helped. It shows he’s retained all his vim and vigour. He’s a five-year-old colt, and sometimes their minds can stray – but on the other hand they can also continue to improve, and hopefully he’s in the second category.
“He’s come out of Ascot in great form and could not be better. Physically, we are very happy with him – and he’s bouncing at home. He’s amazingly well.
“Last year, up against Cracksman, we went to Epsom more in hope than expectation; whereas this year, while being sensible about it, we have a bit more expectation. That’s the nature of the game, isn’t it?”
Andrew Balding’s Morando is another who has taken his form to a new level as a six-year-old, with his Chester win a career high.
However, the trainer is unsure how effective his charge will be on the forecast faster ground at Epsom.
“He’s in good form – but we all know he would prefer some give in the ground, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to get that,” said Balding.
“I think he wants softer ground to be at his best. But there’s some excellent prize-money on offer, and I’m hopeful he might be capable of getting a place.”
Communique made great strides last year, and continued his improvement when winning the Jockey Club Stakes last time out.
Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father Mark, said: “Communique is in good order.
“He is now a Group Two winner, so options for him are pretty few and far between, and the Coronation Cup was the obvious race to aim at after Newmarket.
“We are under no illusions that this will be a much tougher task than he faced in the Jockey Club Stakes. But he has earned the right to have a go – and we know he will be effective over the trip, track and ground.
“He has perhaps won his Group Two a bit quicker than we expected. But you cannot take that away from him – and as a result, he will be campaigned in these kinds of races for the rest of the season.”