May 10 (UPI) -- With the Investec Derby just three weeks down the road, weekend races from Ireland through England and France will sort some things out -- mostly which of the Coolmore herd will move on to that most-fancied classic.
There also are last-chance, de facto qualifiers for the Oaks.
And in Japan, fillies and mares take center stage in Sunday's Grade 1 Victoria Mile.
Here ya go:
The Derby: Sir Dragonet blew away a half dozen rivals in Wednesday's Group 3 Chester Vase, jumping into the top ranks of Derby contenders. With Donnacha O'Brien riding for his trainer-father, Aidan, Sir Dragonet started at the rear of the field, advanced willingly when asked and strode out boldly in the final furlong to win the extended 1 1/2-miles feature by 6 lengths over his stablemate, Norway.
The co-favorites, Dashing Willoughby and King Ottokar, finished second and third after Dashing Willoughby led in the early going.
Sir Dragonet, a Camelot colt from the Oasis Dream mare Sparrow, did not make it to the races as a 2-year-old. He did win easily for the Coolmore lads on debut last month at Tipperary but does not -- yet, anyway -- hold a Derby entry. Norway, by Galileo out of the Kingmambo mare Love Me True, now is 2-for-6.
Meanwhile, Norway pilot Ryan Moore has to be second-guessing himself. Moore rode Just Wonderful to a sixth-place finish in Sunday's 1000 Guineas at Newmarket while O'Brien stablemate Hermosa posted the win under Wayne Lordan. Saturday, Moore was up on the favorite, Ten Sovereigns, in the 2000 Guineas, finishing fifth behind Donnacha O'Brien's mount, Magna Grecia.
Donnacha O'Brien acknowledged it's tough to sort them out at this point. "There's a lot of horses at Ballydoyle with good pedigrees," he told Racing Post. "But we don't really know what they are until we bring them to the track. It was a step into the unknown but he handled it well today."
And Moore, in fact, was on the right one Thursday at Chester as he guided Circus Maximus to a 1 1/4-length victory over O'Brien's ride, Mohawk, in the Homeserve Dee Stakes at an extended 1 1/4 miles. That was perhaps a hard one to miss. Circus Maximus, a Galileo colt, was fourth, beaten only 1 length in the Vertem Futurity Trophy, formerly the Racing Post Trophy, in his 2-year-old finale, a race won by last weekend's 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia. Mohawk, also by Galileo, was 2-for-7 as a juvenile and finished seventh in the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes, won by Too Darn Hot.
On Sunday at Leopardstown in Ireland, Aidan O'Brien holds exactly half of the 14 entries for the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial. Among those are Anthony Van Dyke, Western Australia, Broome and the eagerly awaited Japan. Much about the June 1 Derby could be decided in that 1 1/4 miles.
Also on Sunday, across two channels, O'Brien has Van Beethoven and Never No More entered for the Group 1 Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains, or French 2000 Guineas, at Longchamp. They're unlikely to be favored against the the Godolphin-owned, Andre Fabre-trained duo of Munitions and Persian King and several other impressive locals.
Those looking for an Oaks chance would have been impressed with Mehdaayih's run in Wednesday's Arkle Finance Cheshire Oaks at Chester -- but cautioned she is not nominated to the Epsom Classic.
The Frankel filly was making just her second start of the year for trainer John Gosden in the Chester race and the first a two-horse affair. She took three tries last year to win.
Sunday, it's the Group 1 Emirates Poule d'Essai des Pouliches at Longchamp. A very promising field in this one includes East. Don't remember the Frankel filly? She finished second to Newspaperofrecord in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last November at Churchill Downs. Concrete Rose finished eighth in that heat, then returned to win the Grade III Florida Oaks and whipped Newspaperofrecord easily in the Grade III Edgewood last weekend. While that's interesting, we certainly are not touting East. There are some other very good fillies in the Pouliches.
Sunday's Grade 1 Victoria Mile at Tokyo Racecourse is expected to have a full field of fillies and mares with Lucky Lilac and Aerolithe standing out.
Lucky Lilac, a daughter of Orfevre, finished behind star filly Almond Eye three times during the 2018 season, including a second-place finish in the Oka Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas and third in the Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks, both Grade 1 events. Almond Eye is skipping this race in favor of the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen against males June 2.
Aerolithe, a 5-year-old Kurofune mare, finished second to Mozu Ascot in the 2018 Yasuda Kinen but was 12th in the Mile Championship in November and then ninth in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park Jan. 26.
Among the others in a full field, Mikki Charm, a 4-year-old Deep Impact filly, ended her 2018 campaign with a good second behind Almond Eye in the Grade 1 Shuka Sho going 2,000 meters at Kyoto. She exits a victory in a Grade 3 event at Hanshin April 6.
Primo Scene (JPN) and Red Olga (JPN), two more by Deep Impact, have been consistent competitors but have been less effective so far at the top level.