Mark Johnston hasn't won a British or Irish classic since Attraction landed the Irish 1000 Guineas in 2004.
It is fitting, therefore, that Johnston returns to the Curragh with a son of Attraction, in the shape of Elarqam. By the outstanding Frankel, he is bred to win a Guineas, and he shaped with plenty of promise when two lengths fourth to Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier this month. His relative lack of experience was his undoing, but he set a solid platform from which to build from for the season ahead, and it isn't hard to see why he is favourite for Saturday's race.
Around one and a half lengths behind Elarqam at Newmarket was Gustav Klimt, who had made an impressive return when winning the Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial, but failed to progress from that, surprisingly short of pace at a crucial stage despite the longer trip. It could be that his reappearance on testing ground took more out of him than first thought, and it would be folly to ignore his claims here.
Of Aidan O'Brien's three other runners, it is U S Navy Flag - the choice of Ryan Moore - that makes the most appeal. He did nothing but progress with racing last season, winning four times, notably the Middle Park Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes, both at Newmarket. U S Navy flag built on his below-par reappearance when three lengths fifth in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains at Longchamp last time, working hard early to get to the lead from a wide draw. For all he weakened in the last 100 yards, he probably paid for his earlier exertions, and he has to be respected from a better starting berth here.
Of the remainder, it is the unbeaten Zihba that looks most interesting, having taken a big step forward in form terms when winning the Amethyst Stakes at Leopardstown last time. He showed a striking turn of foot turning for home and likeable resolution to get the job done, and for all he will need to take another sizeable step forward here, he's on a steep upward curve and shouldn't be underestimated.
English raider Symbolization is also worth a mention for all this represents a big step up in class. He finished runner-up to a subsequent listed winner on his reappearance and won a mile handicap at Newmarket last time. A strong, attractive colt, he will continue improving for a while longer yet, and it is interesting that top connections are stepping him up so steeply in grade here.
Irish 1000 Guineas
The Irish 1000 Guineas, which takes place over the same C&D on Sunday, is a little more open than the betting suggests. Clemmie, who became the first offspring of Galileo to win a Group 1 over six furlongs last season, tops Timeform weight-adjusted ratings. She was the ante-post favourite for the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket after winning the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket on her final start last term, but a stone bruise held up her preparation, and she had to miss last month's race. O'Brien has reported that 'she will improve a lot' for this reappearance, but she has the form in the book, and will almost certainly improve for trying a mile for the first time (brother to 2000 Guineas winner Churchill).
It is her stablemate Happily that currently heads the betting, though. She was well backed on her return in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, and ran respectably, finishing two and a quarter lengths third to Billesdon Brook. The trip looked on the short side, and the ground was probably fast enough too, but she has a good record at this course (two out of three, second on other occasion in Debutante Stakes), and commands maximum respect.
The Charlie Appleby-trained Soliloquy was just over a length behind Happily at Newmarket last time, seemingly unsuited by a more patient ride than she received when winning the Nell Gwyn 18 days earlier. She has the potential to do better still, though, especially if reverting to more positive tactics.
Who's Steph is progressing nicely, winning her last three starts, including the Leopardstown 1000 Guineas Trial and the Derrinstown Stud 1000 Guineas Trial. She didn't have to improve for her latest win, though, well positioned the way the race went and getting the jump on a few in behind, and - though she remains with potential - this will require a clear career best.
Chiara Luna and Lightening Quick are a couple others who remain open to improvement. The first-named caught the eye on her reappearance when two lengths fourth to Who's Steph in the Derrinstown, with the three that finished in front of her all ridden more prominently. It says plenty that Dermot Weld is running her here, and she shouldn't be underestimated. Lightening Quick is having her first start for Johnny Murtagh since leaving Ger Lyons., having shown improved form to win the Athasi Stakes at Naas on her return earlier this month; she seems sure to be suited by this step up to a mile.