Moon to shine in Hardwicke

Black Caviar will command all the attention at Royal Ascot this afternoon but unless you’re a big punter or a price-starved Australian used to looking at odds as short as 1-33, she’s unlikely to make any appeal from a punting perspective.

With some tasty-looking priced about the other runners, it would be easy to get bogged down in trying to find something to beat the favourite but if the hype-machine is to believed, that is a fruitless task.

Moonlight Cloud makes some each-way appeal but the value has nearly dried up and it’s a race to watch rather than get too heavily involved in.

The Hardwicke Stakes (3.05) is much more wide open and the in-form Michael Stoute, fresh from yesterday’s Queen’s Vase victory with the well-backed Estimate, trains early favourite Sea Moon.

But the one to attract most interest in the overnight market is the seven-timer seeking Aiken.

While it must be acknowledged that he’s a progressive sort, that interest is due in no small part to the form of the John Gosden stable, which recorded a superb treble at the meeting yesterday afternoon.

Of course it’s difficult to crab a horse who boasts a sequence of six successive victories from seven outings, and it seems certain that he has more to give.

But that will have to be forthcoming as I don’t believe Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden ran his race when third behind Aiken in the Grand Prix de Chantilly last time and the last-named enjoys a 7lbs pull at the weights.

Prior to that Dunaden caught the eye when a strong-finishing third behind Al Kazeem in the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket.

On that occasion he was behind one of today’s rivals, Quest For Peace, and ahead of another, Fiorente. However, he was steadied to sit too far back off what was a poor pace and he was never positioned to land a blow.

He picked up really well in the closing stages, getting up to take third spot. The form of that run would not be good enough today but he would be seen in a much better light if able to come from off a fast pace.

He needs a proper test of stamina and if that’s what today’s race turns into, then he would be very hard to keep out of the frame.

The fear is that, while he has some winning form in testing conditions, his best form is quicker ground and he looks place material, rather than a likely winner.

The aforementioned favourite, Sea Moon, made his seasonal debut last month at Goodwood but he didn’t please everyone when getting home by just a head from Dandino, despite starting at odds of 2-7.

I didn’t read it that way, however. I felt he got a really good blowout and won rather more easily than the distance would suggest.

Forced to make his own pace, he fended off the first challenge of Cill Rialiag before responding generously to see off the cleverly ridden Dandino.

He was a little unlucky when third in last year’s St Leger at Doncaster and subsequently was no match for the classy St Nicholas Abbey in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

But both of those performances came on ground that was unsuitably fast and, undoubtedly, his most impressive victory of last season came in the Great Voltigeur at York, where he relished the testing conditions as he bounded eight lengths clear of his Group 2 rivals.

Given the way the weather has turned during the week, the mile and a half of today’s race is going to take some getting and that should play to his strengths.

Whatever about the margin of victory at Goodwood, he showed the right attitude and he is certain to be better under today’s conditions.

Under the weight of support for Aiken, he has drifted to a very backable 3-1 and at those odds, he rates the best bet in a very competitive contest.

Elsewhere on the card, the John Dunlop-trained Spanish Duke looks capable of running a big race at double-figure odds.

Running in the ultra-competitive Duke of Edinburgh Handicap (5.00), he is still somewhat unexposed over the trip and his most recent effort at Epsom suggests he could be capable of scoring off his current mark.

He has a tendency to pull quite hard but the virtually guaranteed fast pace of today’s race should help in that respect. Noted running on very well at Epsom, having found some trouble in running, he should figure with a little more luck today. At odds of 14-1 (Powers), he’s worth a small each-way interest.

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