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Hardwicke Stakes preview

A classy middle-distance contest to round off the week, look for a few of these heading to Melbourne later in the year for the Cups. In charge of the analysis for this hot contest is Jon da Silva, @creamontop.

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Hardwicke Stakes

Another Group 2 springboard to the Group 1s in July that may alternately turn out to be the height of a second tier horse's career. Generally gets improving or unexposed types that duck the O'Brien Coronation at Epsom. Winners a mixture of never was' and the odd Harbinger of better things to come.

Aiken
by the lovely Selkirk and runs in the same Strawbridge colours. Won 6 straight including beating Maxios as Buick sat in front and kicked on in a false run race. Won a listed race here 10 lengths last year. Hence went off 4s 2nd fav to Sea Moon in this last year - finished behind Sea Moon, Dunaden and Red Cadeaux. Beaten since but not forlorn. Mostly raced with cut in the ground and seems not quite top class. 2nd in the Champions Series stayers event here. The three in front last year are not here and a case can be made back at 12 furlongs even with the fast ground.

Dandino won a course and distance handicap three years ago. Connections long fancied him a stayer and have run him in the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin as well as the Canadian International where he made eye catching ground from the rear. Nearly beat last years winner Sea Moon in a prep last May. My read on him is this is ideal a 12 furlongs on fast ground. Prefer the track was flat but the run in could be ideal. I thought he was beaten because instead of being ridden for a turn of foot Murtagh kicked for home last time at Newmarket and Universal re-passed him. Clearly will need everything to fall right and now six. Switched from Fanshawe to Botti since last year after being purchased by Australian Bloodstock and aimed at a Melbourne Cup campaign.

Ektihaam Won a listed race here by six lengths last start from rival Thomas Chippendale - Aiken won it 10 lengths last year so no mortal lock off that. Nonetheless was impressive muellering Thomas Chippendale who had finished in front of him when Al Kazeem opened the season with a nice win in the 10 furlong Gordon Richards. I assume given his history of being troubled in running and the positive results last time he will go to the front. Entered in the Group 1 King George.

Mount Athos Improving with age. Mostly campaigned over further. Six of seven wins on flat tracks. Fifth in the Melbourne Cup and 10th in the Japan Cup when upped to Group 1. Best on official ratings and 2nd on RPR. Entered in the King George. Won his last four UK races since the start of last season and tuned up with a stroll at Chester from star Chaser Mad Moose.

Noble Mission beaten twice by Universal this season last time by three lengths behind Dandino. Half brother to Bullet Train and a full brother to Frankel so attracts plenty of attention, trained by Lady Cecil! Always seems a little one paced to me. Beat the useful Encke a neck in a Group 3 last year and won a listed race last time. Beaten 1/2 length in the Edward VII 2012 over course and distance by stablemate Thomas Chippendale who re-opposes here.

Sir John Hawkwood won two handicaps last one off 103 and well worth a tilt here. Only had seven lifetime runs. Won on soft and good to firm. Has Ryan Moore... back in the day (Pilsudski all time favourite - the tough of the track) Stoute four year old stepping up to group races would have me hurrying to the bet queue.

Songcraft seemingly exposed runner who has been behind several of these in races. Won a listed race over 14 furlongs last time. Seems a bit short and more exposed than most. Once rated 115 and now 105.

Thomas Chippendale won the three year old equivalent last year from Noble Mission. Humped six lengths by Ektihaam (finished in front of him on seasonal debut) who one can argue was gifted the lead. To me looks like he would need the ground to soften.

Universal won his last 3 races in single figure fields by sitting prominent (he is a Mark Johnston colt after all) including a narrow verdict over Dandino who he was passed by and fought back. Quiz Mistress who split him from Noble Mission has done nothing for the form since. Could play spoiler up front with Ektihaam.

Denoument

Thomas Chippendale is a slight preference over Noble Mission who he beat course and distance last year but neither inspires. Sir John Hawkwood but he is fairly priced ~ 7s. Aiken is tempting at 10s but this is his seasonal opener and entries imply further would suit plus his wins mostly on worse ground. Mount Athos won well at York last year from some dear old stayers and is probably correctly highest rated by the BHA/WTR. Songcraft looks exposed and not good enough on what he has done so far. I love Dandino but not sure anyone else does - I do think if his jockeys ride him for a late turn of foot he has a chance but they don't seem to agree. Universal will grind away and can't be discounted. Ektihaam is entered in a Group 1 and on the improve being visually impressive last time.

I'll bet Ektihaam 10/3 albeit not for a big bet as I think he is the only one who truly threatens to be more than a Group 2 horse in the middle distance. Forecast him with Aiken.

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