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Hardwicke on horizon for Thunderous

Mark Johnston’s Thunderous may target the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot after finishing second behind Al Aasy in the Group Three Al Rayyan at Newbury.

The 2020 Dante winner was four lengths behind the impressive Al Aasy, who is set for the Coronation Cup next after following  up with ease for William Haggas on Saturday – having also comfortably taken the John Porter Stakes over course and distance on his seasonal debut.

Thunderous made much of the running and was left to race alone by the rail as his rivals stuck to the centre of the track.

Harry Herbert, managing director of ownership group Highclere Racing, reports the four-year-old in good form since – and already has his eyes on the Group Two Hardwicke next month.

“He’s come out of Newbury very well – that was a really good run, although he was obviously no match for the winner,” said Herbert.

Thunderous ridden by jockey Franny Norton (left) on their way to winning The Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York Racecourse
Thunderous and Franny Norton (left) on their way to winning the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York (Jeremy Phillips/PA)

“We’re really pleased with him, because he had to race alone on what was maybe the worst ground as the others came up the middle.

“He was passed by the (2019) Leger winner (Logician) and a couple of others – and then he came back.

“We were very happy with the run and we’re toying with the idea of running him next in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.”

Also pencilled in for the Royal meeting is Spycatcher, who was another Highclere runner to finish second at Newbury on Saturday – behind Creative Force in the Listed Carnarvon Stakes.

Trained by Karl Burke, the three-year-old could now step up in trip for the Group Three Jersey Stakes on the second day of Royal Ascot.

“That was really good run at Newbury from Spycatcher,” said Herbert.

“We think he’d probably be better over seven (furlongs), and having something to race. We had to make the running – which wasn’t ideal.

“We will be looking closely at the Jersey – that’s the likely scenario for him.

“I’ve seen him (since), and he looks really well. They’ve both (Spycatcher and Thunderous) taken their races really well and look a picture of health.”

After Highclere hit the crossbar twice at Newbury, Ascension recorded a 14-1 victory for them in the closing BetVictor Handicap.

Herbert confirmed the Roger Varian-trained grey is now likely to head to Royal Ascot too.

“Ascension will go to the Royal Hunt Cup,” he said.

“He’s in great form. He’s taken the race really well, and that race looks to be the right spot for him – so hopefully we’ll get a bit of luck, he’ll stay in one piece and we’ll be lining a few up for the Royal meeting.”

Another member of that Royal Ascot squad could be Ed Walker’s Parachute, last seen taking a mile-and-a-half handicap at Newmarket on May 2.

Herbert hopes the Sea The Stars colt will make the cut for the King George V Stakes, a contest Highclere have already won four times.

“That was a really good effort,” Herbert said of Parachute’s Newmarket performance.

Parachute, ridden by Tom Marquand ,wins the Betfair Weighed In Podcast Handicap ahead of Echo Point ridden by William Buick during 1000 Guineas Day at Newmarket
Parachute (left) wins the Betfair Weighed In Podcast Handicap at Newmarket (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He is rated 88 – so we will be heading to the King George V, the handicap at the Royal meeting, with him.

“We’ve been hoping we can get in. I think we will be right on the cusp, but hopefully we will.”

Parachute indicated he may have plenty of stamina with his all-the-way win at Newmarket, and Herbert added: “We’ll also take a look at the Queen’s Vase.

“He’s a really nice horse and hopefully one that will go on progressing.

“I think off that mark for the King George V, which is a race we’ve been fortunate enough to win four times, he certainly rings all the right bells.

“All that collateral form is good, and we’re hopeful that he will go on progressing and have an improving profile.”

Progressive Parachute can look forward to big-race targets

Parachute’s emphatic Newmarket victory has put Ed Walker in a quandary as he assesses Royal Ascot options for his Derby entry.

Walker admits ‘Plan A’ for the son of Sea The Stars involved a trip to Lingfield for this weekend’s Derby Trial – a race the Lambourn trainer won last year with English King, who was then fifth at Epsom.

But those ambitions were abandoned when Parachute could manage only a disappointing – albeit close – third on his first run of the season in a 10-furlong Redcar handicap.

Parachute and Tom Marquand were always well on top at Newmarket
Parachute and Tom Marquand were always well on top at Newmarket (David Davies/Jockey Club)

He therefore headed instead for another handicap at Newmarket on Sunday, up to a mile and a half, and duly dominated just a three-runner field to win emphatically from a Godolphin odds-on favourite.

Parachute’s career trajectory is therefore very much upwards again, leaving Walker to ponder three Ascot possibilities – at Group Two and handicap level – while he reluctantly concedes the Derby is probably no longer viable.

“He was a horse we had very high hopes for coming into the year,” said Walker.

“He did nothing wrong last year, was very green on debut and then ran a big race behind (unbeaten Godolphin Derby contender) Hurricane Lane in the mud at Newmarket and won well at Lingfield.

“The plan was to go to Redcar and win well, and pitch him in a trial.

“If he didn’t win well, then we haven’t blown his handicap mark by throwing him straight in a trial.

“He obviously didn’t win well at Redcar, and we went down the handicap route – then he has gone and won well!”

Ed Walker's English King was a major contender for the 2020 Derby after his win at Lingfield
Ed Walker’s English King was a major contender for the 2020 Derby after his win at Lingfield (Mark Cranham/PA)

Parachute has therefore presented Walker with a conundrum.

“If he’d done that at Redcar, we probably might be a bit more ambitious,” he added.

“The clock is ticking and time to get to a trial is running out – I suppose he could run in the Cocked Hat at Goodwood (on May 22), that could be an option.

“But that’s back a furlong in trip, on quite an easy track, so that might not be ideal – or we could see what mark he gets next week and maybe freshen him up for the King George V (Handicap at Ascot) if it looks like he’ll get in.”

A clear path has yet to be decided, though – and discussions are pending with owners Highclere Racing.

“It’s tricky really – but I think a lot will depend on how he trains in the next week or so, and what mark he gets, then we can make some plans from there,” said Walker.

“He’s a really exciting horse.  We dreamt of putting him in a trial – what I really wanted to do was win at Redcar and put him in at Lingfield this weekend.

“But Plan A went out of the window.”

The call of a Group campaign remains nonetheless.

“There’s still a temptation to go down the stakes route,” added Walker.

“He’d have to go straight from here to the Derby, there’s not time to get a run in between, so I think we have to put a line through that.

“There are probably three possible races for him at Ascot – the King George V, the (Queen’s) Vase – assuming he’ll stay a mile six, which he looks like he probably will – or the King Edward VII if he were to go and win a Cocked Hat for example.

“But I need to chat to the owners and work out which route we want to go down.

“Those handicaps at Ascot, even if you are very well-handicapped, they’re still very, very hard to win. You need a lot of luck.

“So half of me is tempted to wrap him up for a big handicap and the other half thinks ‘well, you can wait from now until Ascot and then not get a gap when you need it in a big-field handicap and walk away very frustrated’ – having blown six or seven weeks of the summer.”