Hughie Morrison is hopeful Quickthorn can answer a few questions in the Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.
The Lady Blyth-owned five-year-old takes on six rivals in a modest renewal of the Group Three contest, a recognised trial for the Ascot Gold Cup.
Winner of the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes over a mile and a half at the Royal meeting last June, Quickthorn tackles two miles for the first time after a seasonal bow which saw him chase home dual Group One scorer Trueshan at Nottingham.
Morrison said: “I think he needs soft ground, but it’s funny, sometimes they don’t.
“I have just put a line through a dozen different entries for this weekend because of the ground.
“But he is in good form and we are running him to find out a few things, predominately whether he can cope at this level on this faster ground. You would think he would stay the trip.”
Mark Johnston saddles Nayef Road, who was beaten a length and a half in this race by Stradivarius on his first run last term.
He signed off last season with victory in the Listed Jockey Club Rose Bowl at Newmarket, but has taken time to come to hand this year and was well held by Earlofthecotswolds on his latest outing at Kempton last month.
Johnston said: “He has been slightly out of form recently. He seems to be working well at home, but this is a very tough race.
“He has run well when fresh in the last few seasons, but he didn’t run particularly well when fresh this season. It is not the deepest Sagaro, but he still has 9lb to find with the top-rated horse.”
The drying ground is also a concern for Brian Ellison, who saddles top-rated Tashkhan, who is the only one in the line-up to have not had a previous run this year.
Last seen chasing home Trueshan in the British Champions Long Distance Cup over course and distance in October, the North Yorkshire handler admitted he will need to walk the course before making a decision about the four-year-old’s participation.
Ellison said: “We probably have ground issues as well. He is better with a bit of juice in the ground.
“He has a bit of form on good ground, but is better for a bit of juice in it.
“He has done well since last year. He has thickened out and he is very laid back and he won’t tell you a thing at home.
“He has done plenty of graft, though. We will go there on Wednesday and have a look at the ground to be safe. I think a lot of the others will be doing the same.
“I’m not worried about the others all having had a run – I’m more worried about the ground.
“He is only four and the main target is the Gold Cup.”
Aidan O’Brien seeks a first Sagaro success and relies upon Wordsworth, who was third to Hurricane Lane in last year’s Irish Derby and runner-up to him in the Grand Prix de Paris. This will be his first try over this distance.
Ireland is also represented by Princess Zoe, the only mare in the field. Anthony Mullins’ charge was five lengths second to Subjectivist in last season’s Gold Cup but failed to sparkle in Saudi Arabia back in February.
The Gowran trainer is hopeful the seven-year-old will return in a bid to go one better in June, but admits she may not be fully wound up for this task.
“I felt, even though the ground is good to firm, she handled it at Ascot last year and I thought it was more suitable than Navan, which is downhill from the three (furlong pole) to the one, which I didn’t want for her,” said Mullins.
“It is all climb for nearly a mile to home at Ascot, so we were quite happy to go there.
“Brian Ellison’s horse is highly-rated and Wordsworth is now a year older. They are two horses who are formidable opposition.
“The ground is not ideal for us, but I need to get a run into her and the other option at Gowran has a big downhill over the last five furlongs, and that is why I opted for Ascot.
“We have done all our training with June 16 as the main focus, so she will not be fine-tuned for Wednesday, but she is fit and well and we are hoping that her class will help her.”
The Ian Williams-trained Enemy, winner of the Queen’s Cup handicap at Musselburgh last time, tackles this trip for the first time, but Richard Hughes’ Cesarewitch third Calling The Wind will have few trip concerns.
Third on his seasonal bow in a mile-and-a-half conditions race at Doncaster, the Upper Lambourn handler is hopeful the Authorised gelding can progress further.
Calling The Wind has been placed in each of his four previous runs at the Berkshire track, including when runner-up in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at the Royal meeting last season.
Hughes admitted: “The ground is not ideal. At the moment we run. But his best track is Ascot and his form is 5lb better there than anywhere else.
“He has to improve to be a Gold Cup horse, but we hope he will turn out to be a Cup horse this year.”