Even though the most valuable senior prizes of the domestic season are not yet in the formbook, the hunt among the youngest generation for those who might be contenders at the top level a year hence is already gathering pace. Last night at Leopardstown, for instance, the well-bred young colt Zoffany put his name in the frame for future honours by winning the Tyros Stakes in stylishly competent style and, in so doing, following in some glittering hoofprints.
His immediate predecessors in the Group Three race were his own Aidan O'Brien stablemates Cape Blanco, who won last month's Irish Derby and will line up tomorrow for the £1m Betfair-sponsored King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, and high-class miler Rip Van Winkle, who will defend his Sussex Stakes title at Goodwood on Wednesday. Before them, the winner of the seven-furlong contest was the Jim Bolger-trained Derby and Champion Stakes hero New Approach.
Zoffany, who shares his sire, the stamina influence Dansili, with another of the King George runners, Harbinger, is already among the long-term fancies for next year's Derby and, after being outpaced over the six furlongs of the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, seemed very comfortable with the step up in distance as he took his record to four from five, easing clear to score by a smooth two lengths.
His fairly bloodless victory at long odds-on was some solace for rider Johnny Murtagh, who will not be back in action again until Thursday because of a six-day suspension picked up in winning the July Cup on another Ballydoyle celebrity, Starspangledbanner.
A field of seven will contest tomorrow's midsummer showpiece, in which Cape Blanco, the third market choice, and the Derby winner Workforce, the favourite, represent the Classic generation. They are split in the betting by the perceived best of the older brigade, four-year-old Harbinger.
Workforce's runaway Epsom victory looked mighty impressive, but before that he had been beaten by Cape Blanco and Murtagh's replacement Colm O'Donoghue is relishing the rematch. "He's in great shape," he said, "and has maybe come forward for his Irish Derby run. We all have a lot of respect for Workforce, but I'm looking forward to taking him on again."
Workforce and Harbinger, both Sir Michael Stoute inmates, will have the services of a pacemaker, Confront. Skybet go 7-1 that Stoute, who supplied the first three home 12 months ago but whose strike rate has been poor by his high standards lately, will not have one in the first two this time.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Excelebration (7.10 Newmarket) Should progress again after getting off the mark at the expense of a subsequent winner. Testing six furlongs will suit.
Flouncing (4.55 Thirsk)
One to watch
Well-entered juvenile Theyskens Theory (B Meehan) can be expected to benefit from her debut at Newmarket.
Where the money's going
Harris Tweed is 7-1 from 9-1 with the sponsors for next month's Totesport Ebor Handicap at York.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Ocean Drift (6.40 Newmarket)