Aidan O'Brien will be responsible for all but one of the runners in Saturday's Vertem Futurity Trophy as it stands.
Sean Raymond previews Saturday's Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes at Doncaster, and picks out a selection for one of the biggest races of the season...
It has been a thrilling season on the Flat and it all comes to a conclusion this weekend, as we head to Doncaster for the final British Group 1 contest of the calendar year.
Formerly known as the Racing Post Trophy, the Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes is the feature as we get to run the rule over some of the best two-year-old horses in training over the straight mile on Town Moor. The race is of course a prestigious contest in its own right, but it also serves as a key pointer towards the the future and the classic races of 2020.
The race has proven an excellent trial for the Derby at Epsom in recent years, with five horses managing to do the double during their careers, including Camelot, who was the last to do so in 2011/12. That was one of nine wins in the race for Aidan O'Brien, meaning a success this weekend would see him join the great Sir Henry Cecil on tens wins in the contest - something which is bordering on a foregone conclusion at the time of writing.
There was shock on Monday at the five-day stage as the Ballydoyle handler was left with 11 out of 12 entries in the field for the big race on Saturday.
The likely O'Brien-dominated field is a worry for the wider strength and depth of the sport, but that isn't the fault of the Irish Champion Trainer, and we should still see an exciting renewal this weekend in Yorkshire.
It remains to be seen exactly how many of the Ballydoyle runners will take their chance at the weekend, but we certainly expect four or five, with Mogul likely to be the one to beat. A typically well-bred son of Galileo, Mogul was last seen winning a Group 2 in impressive fashion at Leopardstown last month, and at this stage he seems likely to be his trainer's number one string.
Innisfree looks likely to be the Ballydoyle second string in the race, having also won a Group 2 contest on his last start at the Curragh over a mile on heavy ground, and like all of the Galileo colts, stamina won't be a problem for this exciting animal - who is open to plenty of improvement after just three runs during his career.
Armory has fallen short behind two excellent Godolphin horses on his last two starts and clearly has talent, while Royal Dornoch has been inconsistent this term, but showed last time out that he has an engine when winning the Royal Lodge Stakes on the Rowley Mile - meaning it would be foolish to rule out the son of Gleneagles from this one.
There is only one British runner in the field at this stage of the week, and that is the lonely figure of Kameko, who looks set to run for Andrew Balding.
The sole member of the home team will have an army of O'Brien horses to repel if he is going to win, and you would think it would be a tough ask given his effort to finish second behind Royal Dornoch in a Group 2 contest at Newmarket on his last start. He clearly has talent, but the form of his effort to finish second behind Positive in the Solario Stakes at Sandown Park in August has yet to work out, and you have to believe this might be a step too far given the level of opposition.
This has the feel of a nightmare race for punters to get involved with given the dominance of one trainer in the entries, and it is impossible to know at this stage of the week just how many will be declared.
Mogul appears to be the one to follow according to the betting, but given the uncertainty surrounding the race it would far more prudent to stake a few pennies on Innisfree, who looks to be open to all manner of improvement. His three runs to date have brought gradual improvement from Innisfree, culminating in his Group 2 success at the Curragh last time out on heavy ground, and provided he takes another step forward as expected, there is no doubt that he is the best bet at Doncaster.
A disappointing race in terms of the entries, but we could still a high-class winner and a cracking spectacle, don't miss it.