To Aidan O'Brien, Sea The Stars must have begun to seem like one of those indestructible monsters, as told in myth, where every arrow penetrates the temper but never the hide.
The Ballydoyle trainer has flung everything he can at the champion, who has respectively denied Rip Van Winkle, Mastercraftsman and Fame And Glory (twice) in four consecutive Group One races.
O'Brien is still talking pluckily about finally discovering an Achilles heel ahead of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, on Sunday week; in the meantime, however, the cyclical nature of his work already permits him comfort in the next generation.
And the same applies to any punter seeking to divine consistent patterns in the development of the stable's best young prospects. Every year O'Brien saddles juvenile winners by the dozen, and even his own view of their merit can change as they mature. For now, however, it is possible to identify at least colts being treated as plausible Classic prospects for next year.
Yesterday, in the course of an expansive television interview, O'Brien nominated Cape Blanco and Steinbeck for the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket next month, and St Nicholas Abbey for the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday.
St Nicholas Abbey is a Montjeu colt who stormed away with a maiden at the Curragh last month. Though entered for the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, he will instead go for a race that has often identified his stable's most eligible candidate for the Racing Post Trophy. Last year, the Beresford was won by Sea The Stars himself, and it will surely reveal an authentic Epsom type this year if Chabal, conspicuously fast-tracked by Jim Bolger, stands his ground as well.
Bolger has hinted that Chabal could win him a fourth consecutive Dewhurst on 17 October, and already that is shaping up as a vintage race. Cape Blanco was dazzling at Leopardstown during the summer, but less flamboyant at Fairyhouse last time; Steinbeck has disappeared since living up to his billing at Naas in May.
O'Brien has emphasised that Steinbeck only had "growing pains" but the fact that he is contemplating the Dewhurst next implies that the colt has done nothing to diminish his faith in the meantime.
"Steinbeck was always a very exciting horse at home, has always shown loads and was very natural," said O'Brien. "He's done all of his work really well and hasn't disappointed us in any of it yet.
"Cape Blanco is a beautifully actioned horse, hardly lifts his legs off the ground at all. There is no doubt real fast ground is where he is going to be at his best, and we just took a chance on him [at Fairyhouse]. He had loads left, but laboured badly in the ground, and we said we would never do that to him again. We've been very happy with him since, and we think he is going to be very exciting."
Steinbeck's sire, Footstepsinthesand, won the 2,000 Guineas with very little seasoning; perhaps he will take after him, rather than Rip Van Winkle, who proved too artless in both the Dewhurst and the Guineas and has always trod on eggshells. He finally blossomed in the Sussex Stakes and remains on course for his date at Ascot on Saturday, having pleased Johnny Murtagh on the gallops yesterday.
O'Brien added that Yeats could make his final start in the Prix du Cadran at Longchamp on Arc day, but his main priority then will be Fame And Glory making it third time lucky against Sea The Stars. Though brushed aside at Leopardstown this month, Fame And Glory should prove more formidable restored to a mile and a half. "There's no doubt he has to improve, but the good thing is himself and Sea The Stars didn't lock horns early," O'Brien said. "It could have been a gruelling race for his first run back, that would have set him back.
"We met Sea The Stars at the height of his powers. He was very fit, very well, beautifully trained and ridden. Our horse was back after a break, ready to start back with the view if everything went well, we'd go to the Arc with him. Hopefully the two of them will get to the Arc, and all the questions will be answered."
Turf account: Chris McGrath
The Great Alfie (5.55 Perth) Nigel Twiston-Davies has a fine record with his raiders here and this one has excellent prospects off a mark just 4lbs higher than when a stylish winner over course and distance in the spring. That was his first attempt at three miles and he remains very unexposed given a test of stamina.
Lithaam (5.30 Goodwood) Has suddenly got his act together, winning three of his last five, having the race won so far out at Chepstow last time that his revised rating may not prove beyond him.
One to watch
Carey's Road (Jonjo O'Neill) Carey's Road closed smoothly at Uttoxeter on Sunday only to flatten out late on, maybe lacking stamina for this first attempt at two and a half miles.
Where the money's going
Rip Van Winkle is 5-6 from even money with Totesport for Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.