The James Cummings trained pair come into the race with five placings between them and considerable improvement in store as they attempt to give their owner His Highness Sheikh Mohammed a third Blue Diamond victory.
Thanks to his better barrier draw, Plague Stone is generally given the best chance of the two, but Cummings makes strong arguments for both.
“Plague Stone is yet to win but he’s put the writing on the wall as a great Blue Diamond chance,” he said.
“Things didn’t go his way last start but he still ran a great race to finish second and he’s come through what was an excellent effort in great style.
“There’s been good improvement in him from what is a traditionally strong lead-up race and he looks to be in terrific condition.”
Encryption has been placed at all three of his starts and made his autumn debut with a strong second at Flemington on Saturday, 3 February.
“He’s drawn around horses who can take him into the race, he’s been crying out for 1200 metres and he’s gone ahead by many lengths in the three weeks since his last run, Cummings said.
“They are two exciting colts with plenty of upside.”
Sheikh Mohammed won the Blue Diamond with Earthquake in 2014 and Sepoy in 2011, the latter going on to win the worlds richest two-year-old race, the G1 Golden Slipper and then becoming the world’s highest-ranked three-year-old sprinter.
Among the opposition faced by the Godolphin colts are five unbeaten youngsters, including Long Leaf who has won each of his three starts and the filly Enbihaar who is two-from-two.
A pair of G1 targets could be ahead of the classically-bred colt Astoria if he runs up to expectations in the G2 Autumn Classic at Caulfield on Saturday, 24 February.
After resuming with an encouraging third placing at Caufield on 10 February, Astoria (Damian Lane) steps up in distance and class for his latest assignment with plenty of stable confidence backing his prospects.
“This is looking like a good race for him ahead of the Australian Guineas, even though there’s only a week between the two races,” said trainer James Cummings.
The G1 Australian Guineas will be run at Flemington on Saturday, 3 March.
Astoria was having his first start since finishing third in the G1 Victoria Derby last spring when he ran at Caulfield last start and Cummings says he has improved since and will continue to do so.
“Being three-wide on the circle at Caulfield didn’t suit him but he still finished a good third,” he said.
“If he advances on that this weekend, then we’ll be thinking about the Guineas the following week.
“He was placed in the Derby in Melbourne in the spring and with natural improvement and maturity we’ll be looking at the ATC Derby in April.”
Another promising Godolphin three-year-old, Regimen, gets her autumn campaign underway in the G2 Typhoon Tracy Stakes at Moonee Valley on Saturday, 23 February.
A winner at three of her first four starts, Regimen (Craig Williams) has shown herself capable of graduating to Stakes class and Cummings will use Friday night’s race as a guide to her autumn program.
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