You can take your pick of Aidan O'Brien's impressive stats in the Beresford Stakes. He has won the last eight renewals; or nine of the last ten; or twelve of the last fifteen; or eighteen of the last twenty-three. Not all of those winners would feature in a Ballydoyle hall of fame, but the high-class St Nicholas Abbey is among them, and the last three, all ridden by Ryan Moore, haven't done too badly either. Capri won an Irish Derby and St Leger and Saxon Warrior a 2000 Guineas, while last year's winner Japan, currently one Enable's chief rivals in next weekend's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is potentially the best of all the Beresford Stakes winners O'Brien has handled.
Saxon Warrior and Japan won their Beresfords at Naas while the Curragh was undergoing redevelopment, but the race is back at its usual home again this year on a track where the likes of Nijinsky, Sadler's Wells and Sea The Stars all feature as famous names among its past winners.
O'Brien ran three in last year's Beresford - subsequent Irish Derby winner Sovereign was back in fourth - and has whittled an original entry of ten down to another trio for this Sunday's race. Cormorant, a son of Kingman who fetched just over a million guineas as a yearling, boasts some of the best form. He got off the mark narrowly at the second attempt when winning a maiden at Leopardstown over a mile in August but was merely acting as pacemaker for Japan's brother Mogul when stepped up in grade for the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown a fortnight ago, finishing only fifth of seven behind that colt. He's presumably destined for a similar role here.
Cormorant finished just in front of the O'Brien third-string Royal County Down last time and that colt again joins him in Sunday's line-up. On the face of it, that was Royal County Down's best effort - he'd won a maiden at Down Royal and a nursery at Galway in the summer - but it would be a surprise if he's the one to extend his stable's winning streak in the race.
In common with a number of O'Brien's other past winners of the Beresford, Saxon Warrior and Japan went into the race on the back of maiden wins, and on that basis the stable's main hope this time, and the mount of Donnacha O'Brien, is Innisfree rather than those with higher ratings from defeats in pattern company already. Innisfree is certainly a likely type on both pedigree and profile, by Galileo out of a listed winner, and he shaped well behind stablemate Year of The Tiger (runs in Saturday's Royal Lodge at Newmarket) on his debut at Naas in July before rallying to land the odds in a maiden at the Galway Festival later in the month. Both those races were over seven furlongs but a mile on what could be more testing ground shouldn't be a problem.
But could this be the year that the Ballydoyle stranglehold on the Beresford is finally broken? Dermot Weld has been waiting a long time to win another Beresford, something he last did in 1995 with Ahkaam. It's also a race that he has won with subsequent Irish 2000 Guineas winner Flash of Steel. Weld has had several runners-up in the period of O'Brien's domination, but the Aga Khan's Shekhem could be the type to change his luck.
It took Shekhem until his fourth attempt to lose his maiden tag, at Listowel earlier this month, when he made all for a ready success in soft ground, beating the Ballydoyle odds-on shot Louisiana by nearly three lengths. It was the same maiden which Japan won prior to last year's Beresford. Shekhem had come up against some good colts beforehand, and had been the one to make Innisfree fight hard for his win at Galway. On that evidence, there's precious little between the pair of them, the difference on the day being that Shekhem was a bit too keen early on and raced that bit wider pressing the winner throughout. With two more runs under his belt since then - there was no disgrace in finding only Mogul too strong at the Curragh next time - Shekhem could prove a tougher nut for Innisfree to crack this time.
Innisfree and Shekhem aren't the only promising colts in the line-up. Ger Lyons has had a hatful of two-year-olds winning first time out this season and Camorra, a son of Zoffany like Shekhem, was one of them. He has a good deal more to do here but looked a useful prospect when beating a Ballydoyle odds-on shot on soft ground at Killarney last month, finding an impressive change of gear to get up in the dying strides.
Jessica Harrington is another trainer with a good bunch of youngsters but her entry Gold Maze has a still stiffer task. A 550,000 guinea son of Golden Horn, he was putting in his best work at the finish when fifth of sixteen in a maiden at the Curragh last month, but he's likely to need more time and distance before he's ready for this sort of test.
The field is completed by the Andrew Oliver-trained Silvertown who finished further back in ninth in the same maiden as Gold Maze, never threatening after being dropped out. A 33/1 shot that day, it's hard to see him making any more of an impact in this company.
This should boil down to a fascinating rematch between Galway rivals Innisfree and Shekhem. It will be no surprise if Innisfree can maintain his stable's remarkable record, but Shekhem gets the nod to turn the tables, significant that his trainer is prepared to take him on again.