Prince Of Arran faces a "proper D-Day" assignment at Kempton next month as his trainer Charlie Fellowes ponders a fourth bid to win the Melbourne Cup.
Fellowes will be prepared to send the eight-year-old to Australia again, despite the new veterinary regulations which appear to have dissuaded many top European trainers from considering the long journey this year.
But before sanctioning the inevitable high costs for a venture which has previously resulted in two third places and a runner-up spot – promoted from third – over the last three years at Flemington, the Newmarket trainer needs to see evidence in the September Stakes that "the real Prince Of Arran" is back.
Fellowes reports Prince Of Arran has not shown anything like the necessary form since finishing third in the Cup in 2020, at home or in three starts on the track, to warrant an attempt to add to his famous big-race record in November.
Unlike other high-profile trainers – such as Aidan O'Brien and former winner Charlie Appleby – Fellowes has nominated to run again at this stage, as one of 15 possible British or Irish participants.
They include Joseph O'Brien's 2020 winner Twilight Payment and Martyn Meade's Irish Derby runner-up Lone Eagle.
The consensus is that enhanced veterinary checks on overseas challenges – resulting from an inquiry, following the death of Ballydoyle's Anthony Van Dyck in last year's race – have dissuaded many from making the expensive journey.
Fellowes acknowledges that factor, but will make an exception for Prince Of Arran – if he returns to form at Kempton.
He said: "I am (put off by the new regulations) – and I think if I had a horse that had never been over there, but I thought would suit the race, I wouldn't have nominated.
"But at the end of the day, I have to do what is right by the owners and the horse. He has a very good record in Australia, and we're not racing for peanuts down there. We're racing for very, very good prize-money – more than he could win staying up here.
"So I think it's only right that we enter and then see.
"If I had an unproven horse in Australia, I wouldn't be doing it, I wouldn't be going down (because of the new regulations) – but just because I've got a horse that absolutely loves it over there, it makes sense to have a go."
Fellowes warns nonetheless, that unless he improves on his current form, Prince Of Arran will not be embarking again on a trip which – as well as his Melbourne Cup heroics – has previously also yielded a 2019 victory in the Geelong Cup and success in the Lexus Stakes a year earlier.
He said: "I'm not going to send him down if I don't think he can go and run as well as he has in previous years. If we're going down there, we're going to go to win – we're not going down there to throw a dart at the board.
"I think September Stakes is D-Day, proper D-Day – because I think, if he doesn't fire at Kempton, I'd probably suggest that we'll be looking at retirement full stop.
"The facts are that he is not in good enough form at the moment to warrant a trip to Australia – and he's going to have to prove his well-being up here before I even think about sending him on a plane down there."
Prince Of Arran has finished an honourable third in the Group Three September Stakes for the past two years, before heading to Australia.
Fellowes added: "The plan is to run in the September Stakes at Kempton – which is his usual prep race – and that will tell us what sort of form he's in.
"Twelve furlongs is short of his best, but he absolutely loves Kempton. If he can run a nice race there, then we'll seriously consider going into quarantine for Australia."
The alternative is likely to be the end of a remarkable career which has yielded six victories, a string of admirable efforts in defeat and racked up many thousands of air miles.
"He owes us nothing more," said Fellowes.
"He came back from Australia last year a very different horse to previous years. He ran in the Caulfield Cup and then the Melbourne Cup – he was bitterly unlucky in both races, and had very hard races in the process, and I think it really took its toll mentally.
"That's why we've really taken our time (since) – I've barely raced him. I felt he was lacklustre both at Kempton, then Saudi, and I suppose Ascot (fifth in the Sagaro Stakes) as well.
"He just doesn't look his usual self.
"If the real Prince Of Arran doesn't turn up at Kempton in the September Stakes, then I think a horse who owes us nothing, has won £2million in prize money and been an absolute star … if he's had enough, he's had enough.
"The problem is the costs involved of going down there are so high you couldn't send a horse that wasn't absolutely flying and just roll the dice because he's got a good record in Australia.
"He has a good record at Ascot; he has a good record at Kempton – and he hasn't fired there this year. So why on earth (in his current form) would he go down to Australia and fire down there?
"It's not fair on the owners who have trusted me with this horse for eight years and who have been amazing, and it's not fair on the horse."