Top Rank will have an early chance to confirm he is still an improving horse for the season ahead in the Listed Unibet Doncaster Mile Stakes.
Trainer James Tate senses the imposing grey, who has grown again from four to five, has progressed through the winter – having already established a high level of form in 2020.
Top Rank must concede weight all round when he returns on Saturday, as the winner of Haydock’s Group Three Superior Mile on his penultimate start last September.
But Tate is optimistic that he can step forward again – either over his proven trip of a mile, up to 10 furlongs, or even over shorter – after winning five of only seven career attempts to date.
“He’s ready to go, he’s in good form and he’s done extremely well through the winter. But it’s not a bad Listed race, and he’s got to give them all a 5lb Group Three penalty,” the Newmarket trainer said.
“It’s no easy task, but on the other hand, we are very happy with him and excited to see him back on the track.
“Obviously we’re at the start of a new season, but so far we think he’s improved.
“We’re just hoping he’s come on again. A little drop of rain wouldn’t do him any harm either.”
The son of Dark Angel has always towered over the majority of his rivals, and Tate added: “Believe it or not, he has grown from four to five.
“He’s a massive, big horse and he’s been working very nicely – so we’re just looking forward to seeing him back on the track really.”
Doncaster will be informative for the future in terms of trip, and to an extent ground too.
Tate added: “It’s hard (to know) with these horses – they’re not mature until later in their lives.
“Certainly earlier in his career, we swerved fast ground – because we felt it would be likely to injure him.
“He’s a much more mature horse now.
“First run of the year, ideally we would just like nice, good ground.”
As for subsequent targets, Tate expects to be wiser after this weekend.
“We’ll just have to get Saturday out of the way,” he said.
“Sometimes these horses do stretch out a little bit, and I have got him on all race searches – thinking ‘would he get a mile and a quarter?’.
“But then, sometimes they surprise you – they get bigger and stronger and they come back to seven.”
Montatham, who had Top Rank back in third place when landing a York handicap in August, is among the opposition.
The William Haggas-trained five-year-old meets Top Rank on 6lb better terms.
Richard Fahey’s Space Traveller is an interesting runner, having his first race since finishing sixth in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer. That was the only outing in 2020 for the Bated Breath entire, who won the Jersey Stakes and Boomerang Stakes in 2019.
Juan Elcano, fifth to Kameko in the 2000 Guineas, is given an early seasonal debut by Kevin Ryan, while Richard Hannon is double-handed with Beat Le Bon and Qaysar.