Highest Ground will put his unbeaten record and tall reputation on the line in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.
Usually run in mid-May as a major trial for the Investec Derby, Thursday’s 10-furlong Group Two is this year being run five days after Serpentine’s win in the premier Classic, having been saved and re-scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a normal year, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Highest Ground might have well staked a claim for Derby honours in the spring, having looked every inch a potential star in the making when making a successful debut at Leicester last September.
However, the late start to the season meant the son of Frankel did not appear until 10 days before Epsom – putting the highly-rated Waldkonig in his place in a novice event at Haydock.
Alan Cooper, racing manager for Highest Ground’s owner the Niarchos Family, said: “It was a good performance at Haydock, and afterwards the Dante looked the logical next step.
“It’s obviously unusual to be running races like the Dante and the Musidora at this time of year – the fact these races are clashing with the first day of the July meeting at Newmarket just underlines what a strange year it is.
“It looks a good step for our horse to take – I’m sure it will be an interesting race.”
Highest Ground is a short-priced favourite to dispatch his five rivals on the Knavesmire.
Aidan O’Brien sends his Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial victor Cormorant from Ireland; Mark Johnston’s Thundering turns out 12 days after running second at Newmarket, and the Kevin Ryan-trained Juan Elcano was last seen finishing fourth in the Hampton Court at Royal Ascot.
The other two hopefuls are Richard Hannon’s Al Madhar and John Gosden’s Encipher, who were separated by just a neck when first and second respectively at Newbury last month.
Like Highest Ground, the Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned Al Madhar is out to make it three wins from as many starts.
“I think the favourite looks very smart, to my eye,” said the owner’s racing manager, Angus Gold.
“Our horse is difficult to weigh up, because sometimes his work can be pretty good and other times it can be pretty average, but he has obviously done nothing wrong on the racecourse.
“I think a mile and a quarter is the right place for him at the moment – he may stay further, but he won what I thought was a high-quality race over a mile and a quarter last time, so we thought we’d stick for the time being.
“It will be interesting to see how he gets on.”