A stable that houses the first four in the betting on the Investec Derby, and must choose one to run in France the next day instead, would seem to have only one dilemma to concern most punters. But they would be well advised to heed the way Aidan O'Brien and his patrons play their hand in a mere Listed race, over a mile and three-quarters, at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Should Age Of Aquarius line up for the Saval Beg Stakes, it would seem a transparent indication that his priority is the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Should he not be declared, however, the chances are that he will instead represent the stable in the Investec Coronation Cup on Friday week, with a new agenda being pursued for Fame And Glory.
After initially proposing Epsom and then a midsummer break for Fame And Glory, following his runaway success at the Curragh on Sunday, O'Brien yesterday raised the possibility that he would instead wait for the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. And the logic of that option will surely prove hard to resist.
With physical maturity, and liberated from the attentions of Sea The Stars, Fame And Glory has quickly blossomed into Ballydoyle's outstanding candidate not only for the Prince Of Wales's Stakes – a race that sits somewhat more comfortably in the CV of a potential Coolmore stallion than the Coronation Cup – but potentially also for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes as well. With just a dozen days dividing his exertions on Sunday from the Coronation Cup, it is difficult to see the merit of hastening towards Epsom.
To do so would certainly require O'Brien to give the horse that break afterwards. Should he go to Ascot, on the other hand, Fame And Glory would have the chance to get runs on the board – maybe twice over – while his younger stablemates sort out their relative eligibility for the big prizes of the autumn.
Age Of Aquarius is the stable's only other option for the Coronation Cup, and did make a very encouraging resumption at Chester earlier in the month. The third option is for the stable to forget all about the Epsom race, but it might well prove a priceless chance to volunteer Age Of Aquarius as a proper stallion prospect himself. Regardless, for Fame And Glory to run would now seem a curious aberration. Whatever happens, nobody should be taking odds as short as 7-4.
Potential opponents for Age Of Aquarius at Leopardstown, incidentally, would include Rite Of Passage, whose deeds over hurdles should not deceive anyone that he has finished his improvement on the Flat.
As for O'Brien's central quandary, the runes for now remain confined to the ante-post market, where Cape Blanco proved rather weak yesterday as fresh support was reported for Jan Vermeer, himself most impressive at the Curragh on Sunday.
Michael Bell, for one, would presumably be relieved to find Cape Blanco sent to Chantilly instead as he perseveres towards the Derby with Coordinated Cut, only third behind that colt in the Dante Stakes at York. Bell predicts improvement, either way, and not just on account of the longer trip. "I may have left him a bit short of work," he admitted. "He blew pretty hard after the race for slightly longer than normal, a good 15 to 20 minutes. We made the decision to commit early in the straight, and that could have backfired. I think he was a little bit lost out in front."
Coordinated Cut will have a spin down Tattenham Corner tomorrow, the only Derby acceptor to do so during the track's annual media ritual.
Shamali (4.45 Ffos Las) Can build on an encouraging comeback at Newmarket, fading late after threatening a strong challenge. Still lightly raced, and the type to flourish with maturity now.
Northern Fling (2.40 Ayr) Unexposed beyond sprint trips but caught the eye on his return and the booking of Fallon suggests he can now exploit an attractive handicap mark.
One to watch
Ski Sunday (N J Henderson) Was much improved over hurdles when last seen and promised to profit from a low Flat rating at Newbury on Saturday, lack of fitness telling only late on.
Where the money's going
Cape To Rio, set to put his unbeaten record on the line at Sandown tomorrow night, is 10-1 from 16-1 with Coral for the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.