Six of the last 10 renewals of the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes, run over a mile-and-a-half for four-year-olds and upwards, have been won by horses trainer by Sir Michael Stoute, so it seems only logical that his representatives in this event should be given very serious consideration.
At the time of writing Stoute has three possible runners, Exosphere, Dartmouth and King’s Fete, with the yard’s Cannock Chase having been rules out after a setback.
Exosphere (3/1), Hardwicke Stakes Favorite
Exosphere (3/1) stepped up in class on his first start this campaign and looked to have improved considerably as he slammed last term’s St Leger winner Simple Verse by four lengths in the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket in April.
The runner-up ran well to be second in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom recently making Exosphere’s Newmarket romp one of the very strongest pieces of form on offer in what promises to be a tremendous race. He looks a leading contender.
Darthmouth (6/1), Top Contender
Second in the ante-post market is his stable companion Dartmouth (6/1), owned by The Queen, and believed by many pundits to be her best chances of a winner at Royal Ascot this week.
The son of Dubawi has been in fine form so far this term winning both starts: the re-routed Group 3 John Porter Stakes at Chelmsford in April, and the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester last month where he made all and ran on strongly to beat the capable Wicklow Brave by a neck.
Dartmouth needs to improve again on official figures, but he is going the right way and will have the majority of the 70,000 crowd rooting for him regardless of what other names might be written on their betting slips.
Eagle Top (7/1), John Gosden Horse
John Gosden’s Eagle Top (7/1), winner of the 2014 King Edward VII Stakes over course and distance, runner-up to Snow Sky in this race 12 months ago, and beaten just a nose in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes over the same trip at Ascot last July, would be hard to beat if recapturing his best form, but he was a disappointment on his seasonal bow at Newbury in May when odds-on but only fourth of five to Astronereus (20/1, another possible for this race).
This is a horse though who tends to improve for his first run of the campaign and he may very well bounce back at a track which seems to bring out the best in him.
Elite Army (8/1), Saeed Bin Suroor Horse
It’s a surprise to see Godolphin’s Elite Army (8/1) quite so prominent in the betting given his achievements to date, but it could well be a sign that he is expected to improve on his head victory over Scotland in the listed Buckhounds Stakes over course and distance last month.
That piece of form leaves him with about a stone of improvement to find for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who won this race back in 2004 with the smart Doyen.
Other Royal Ascot Contenders
Aidan O’Brien’s Highand Reel (10/1) – who has an alternative engagement in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes earlier in the week – would be a danger to all if turning up for this contest.
A tremendously versatile globe-trotter, it’s a surprise to note he has never run before at Ascot but there is no reason why he shouldn’t be well suited by the track.
Others worthy of consideration in what could be a fine race, include possible French raider Erupt, whose fifth behind Golden Horn in last October’s Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is one of the strongest pieces of form on offer. He finished last on his seasonal bow at Chantilly but clearly hated the heavy ground, and on a decent surface could be the each-way value at around 20/1.
David Lanigan’s Almodovar (14/1), very impressive when romping to victory in a good handicap last time, would be interesting if showing up for this race, as too would the high-class The Grey Gatsby (14/1), but he would appear more likely to run in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday over his optimum trip of 10 furlongs than this tough 12 furlong contest.