With nine previous successes, Michael Stoute is the most successful trainer in the history of the Hardwicke Stakes and he can bring his tally into double figures by taking the Group 2 with the exciting Exosphere on the final day of Royal Ascot 2016.
The Beat Hollow colt, whose dam was runner-up in the Italian Oaks, didn’t race as a juvenile but made up for lost time with a busy three-year-old campaign.
In six runs last term, he made steady progress up the handicap by securing three wins and finishing off with a third-place finish in a listed race at Ayr.
That left him on a mark of 110 but the first real sign of dramatic progress came on his return, in April, when he ran out a very impressive winner of a Group 2 at Newmarket, where he readily accounted for last season’s Leger winner Simple Verse who re-opposes today.
Clearly suited by the step up to a mile and a half, he is joint-highest rated runner in the race and yet remains thoroughly unexposed.
He hasn’t yet achieved what Eagle Top did in being beaten a nose in last season’s King George, but they look to be going in different directions, and any further progress would make Exosphere very hard to beat.
Stoute’s other runner, Dartmouth, also commands respect.
Churchill was a real eye-catcher on debut, when third behind Coventry Stakes fifth Van Der Decken in a six-furlong maiden at the Curragh, and can take the necessary step forward to land the opening Chesham Stakes for Aidan O’Brien.
The selection has been all the rage in the market over the past few days and, as a result, is quite short at this stage.
Whether or not he represents value may be up for debate, but the Ballydoyle juveniles have performed well this week, and this highly regarded colt will appreciate the step to seven furlongs. He holds all the entries one would expect, and can take this en route to better things.
Cunco and Frankuus - both by Frankel - command plenty of respect, with the former just preferred as the danger to the selection.
The featured Diamond Jubilee Stakes looks a bit of a puzzle, but Twilight Son can reverse recent form with Magical Memory and Suedois to land the winner’s prize of £340,260.
Usually ridden prominently, he was held up on his return, at York, and failed to get involved. The running style would suggest he wasn’t fully wound for that race, and a much-improved display can be expected.
He has four and a half lengths to make up with winner Magical Memory, but was conceding weight and race fitness then.
Winner of a Group 1 last year, and runner-up to brilliant sprinter Muhaarar in another, he boasts strong claims, and is fairly priced at around the 6-1 mark.
The Queen Alexandra Stakes – the longest flat race of the season – concludes the meeting, and last year’s winner, Oriental Fox, can follow up for Mark Johnston.
Very impressive in 2015, the now eight-year-old made a very pleasing return when a close fourth behind Elite Army over an inadequate mile and a half at Ascot.
As he came here without a prep last year, that can only be a benefit to him here and, with so few true stayers at this trip, he ought to be very hard to beat.
3:05 Best Of Times
3:40 Exosphere (nap)
4:20 Twilight Son
5:00 Absolutely So
5:35 Oriental Fox (nb)
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