Hardwicke Stakes preview: Defoe worth a wager to follow-up at Royal AscotPublished on: June 21, 2019Author: Jamie Clark
The Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes over 1m 4f is the chief supporting race on the final day of Royal Ascot this Saturday (15:40), and Defoe comes into this hotly competitive renewal off the back of a career best last time out.
Trained by Roger Varian, the five-year-old grey son of Dalakhani captured the Group 1 Coronation Cup on Oaks day at Epsom at the end of last month.
After being held-up and somewhat slowly into stride, Defoe made headway on the inside turning for home.
A gap then appeared at the perfect time approaching the final furlong, and he ran through it and on to score by half-a-length from St Leger winner Kew Gardens.
The front two pulled five lengths clear of the third home, so on Epsom form he has nothing to fear from re-opposing quartet Salouen, Communique, Lah Ti Dar and Morando.
Not all horses are suited by the unique undulations of that track on the Surrey Downs, but as a Group 1 race it sets a clear standard here.
Defoe is now eight from 17 career starts, has a 50 per cent strike rate in this grade and race terms mean he doesn’t carry a penalty.
As this gelding has posted improved form with each run this season, it would be no surprise to see him follow-up.
With the good-to-soft ground in Berkshire holding no fears, it’s Defoe who is fancied most at 4/1 with Bethard for consecutive victories.
Tall order for Masar on return to action
Last year’s Epsom Derby winner Masar heads the Hardwicke Stakes betting at 11/4 with Paddy Power, but hasn’t run since capturing Classic glory.
This is a hot race for the grade and, while connections – powerful owners Godolphin and trainer Charlie Appleby – are respected, a racecourse absence of 385 days isn’t ideal.
Masar was only third in the Chesham here two years ago after winning on debut at Goodwood. He then bounced back by landing the Group 3 Solario Stakes at Sandown.
As he readily won by two lengths from fellow Classic hero Romanised, the form looks solid.
Masar resumed winning ways after some international assignments on his second start last season when making all and bolting up by nine lengths in the Group 3 Craven Stakes.
While he was only third to Saxon Warrior back at Newmarket for the 2000 Guineas, the step up to this trip brought about his finest hour.
After being held-up in midfield, Masar closed over two out and was ridden to lead approaching the furlong marker.
He stayed on well and the son of New Approach was soon in command as he ran out a 1 1/2 lengths victor over Dee Ex Bee. The runner-up was a gallant second in the Gold Cup here earlier this week.
Masar had the field well strung out and on that form he has major claims. The concern is he’s been off the track for more than a year and, although top on official figure with 3lb and upwards in hand on the field, seven of his rivals are rated within 8lb of him.
It’s a big ask for Masar against race fit rivals first time up after a lengthy lay-off in such a competitive event. For that reason, we suggest punters take him on.
Don’t discount Mirage Dancer for race specialist Stoute
You can make a case for most of the nine-runner field, but what’s not in doubt is trainer Sir Michael Stoute has farmed the Hardwicke Stakes throughout his career.
The Newmarket handler has an unparalleled 11 wins in the race including six this decade. Stoute’s sole representative in this renewal is Mirage Dancer, who arguably ran in the wrong race at the meeting last year.
This five-year-old son of Frankel is owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah and has twice placed in top class races at this venue.
After going down by a neck here over course and distance in the Buckhounds Stakes on his first start last season, Mirage Dancer then landed a Listed affair at Goodwood.
He was then dropped back in trip for the Wolferton, but lacked the pace to mount a challenge to be a staying on 2 3/4 lengths fifth to Monarchs Glen.
Mirage Dancer was then just held half-a-length by Best Solution in the Group 2 Princess Of Wales’s Stakes at the Newmarket July Festival, before resuming winning ways in the Group 3 Glorious Stakes at Goodwood.
It was a deserved big race success. He then ran a stormer when trying to 6lb to Young Rascal in the similar grade Arc Trial at Newbury.
Mirage Dancer ran his heart out, but was chinned in the final stride and went down by a short-head.
As he’s had the same preparation for Royal Ascot as last year, again winning a Listed contest at Goodwood, keeping him at 1m 4f looks a sensible decision from connections.
A mark of 116 puts Mirage Dancer in with every chance of hitting the frame, and he is thus more solid than most at 11/2 with Boylesports as an each-way angle.
Lah Ti Dar can give better account
If there is to be an improver in the Hardwicke Stakes from those in-behind Defoe in the Coronation Cup, then Lah Ti Dar could be well worth forgiving the run at Epsom.
This John Gosden trained Dubawi filly is lightly-raced and makes just her eighth career start at Royal Ascot.
She won her first two outings in the manner of a top notch prospect and was favourite for The Oaks before injury ruled her out.
Lah Ti Dar looked better than ever when returning from a break and battering the field in a Listed race at York’s Ebor Festival last August.
That 10 lengths romp earned her a crack at the St Leger where she chased home Kew Gardens.
She was 4 1/2 lengths in front of the re-opposing Southern France in third, and the pair re-oppose off exactly the same terms. Yet Lah Ti Dar can be backed at almost twice the price of that Aidan O’Brien trained runner.
That makes no sense at all, especially as Lah Ti Dar was from disgraced when a close up third in Magical on soft ground in the Group 1 British Champions Day race for fillies and mares here on her final start of last season.
After resuming winning ways when toughing it out to beat Rawdaa by a neck in the Group 2 Middleton Stakes over an inadequate trip at York’s Dante Festival on reappearance, Lah Ti Dar just didn’t handle Epsom.
This track is configured very differently. There simply shouldn’t be the big disparity in price between Lah Ti Dar and Southern France, so at 7/1 with William Hill she is another with each-way claims.