Sir Michael Stoute is a regular in the Royal Ascot winners’ enclosure, and excels with middle-distance colts.
His dominance in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes is quite incredible, boasting seven wins from the last 11 renewals. It’s a race he targets, often arriving mob-handed, which last year gleaned a winner for the Queen, when Dartmouth got the better of a thrilling duel with Ballydoyle’s Highland Reel.
Past winners for Stoute and his team include Harbinger, who went on to a scintillating success in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes. His demolition in 2010 of a strong King George field, was one of the most stunning performances in recent Flat racing history. He put 11 lengths between himself and the Irish Derby winner Cape Blanco. Three-time Arc runner-up Youmzain, was a further three lengths back, whilst emphatic Epsom Derby winner and future Arc hero Workforce, trailed in almost 17 lengths adrift. The winning time was lightning quick, bettered only by Novellist in 2013.
A month earlier, Harbinger had cruised to success in the Hardwicke at the Royal Meeting, comfortably beating John Gosden’s Duncan. Owned by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, he had to be retired before the Arc later that year, after suffering a serious leg injury on the gallops. He ended with career stats of six wins from nine starts.
Other Stoute victors in recent years include the ultra-consistent Sea Moon who won in 2010. Just shy of top-class, he did nevertheless capture a pair of Group 2s, and finished runner-up to St Nicholas Abbey in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Telescope won the Hardwicke of 2014, and like Harbinger was owned by Highclere. He was another that never quite hit the heights he’d promised, though nevertheless did have a fantastic 2014 campaign, when never finishing out of the first four in six starts. A productive season included a runner-up spot in the King George VI, and a third-place finish in the Juddmonte International.
So, who will Sir Michael saddle to glory a week on Saturday? Who follows Dartmouth, as Stoute’s dominance of the Hardwicke borders on monopoly status?
There’s every chance that Dartmouth could complete a famous double, last achieved by the trainer’s own Maraahel in 2006 and 2007. To replicate that achievement, he’ll again have to beat Ballydoyle’s exceptional mid-distance jetsetter Highland Reel. He was last seen winning the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom, though this race comes plenty quick enough after those exertions. Dartmouth was last seen winning the Yorkshire Cup in May, and will be fresh and ready to go. He looks sure to make an impact.
If Jack Hobbs lines up here, he’ll take all the beating. But it appears he may be heading for the Group 1 Prince Of Wales. Frontiersman may be Godolphin’s main hope in this, though he was also at Epsom, when finishing just behind Highland Reel in the Coronation. He struggled with the track that day, and ran a blinder under the circumstances. The Epsom pair are currently joint-favourites, but I’d be concerned about the proximity of that race. Stoute can probably capitalise, but with which contender?
In a race that has been dominated by four-year-olds, maybe Poet’s Word is the answer. He stepped out of handicap company to chase home Deauville at Chester in May. He shaped as though the step-up to a mile and a half would suit, and he looks a seriously progressive sort. Stoute is a master at improving horses from three to four, and this fella could be a serious contender.
Ulysses is another fast-improving four-year-old that could line-up in this. He stayed-on powerfully to beat Deauville at Sandown in April, at a mile and a quarter. This looks to be his trip, though he is entered in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes. Should he take his place at the start, I think he’s another with a huge chance.
It’s a fascinating renewal, and you can be sure that Sir Michael will be launching a major assault. He looks to have the right sort of artillery, and I fancy his battalion have had the perfect preparation to peak when it matters. I hope Ulysses goes for this, and if he does I think he’ll win. If not I’ll stick with Dartmouth to complete the double for Her Majesty.