Elarqam out to crack Hardwicke puzzle

Johnston five-year-old up in trip in bid to dethrone Defoe.

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A field of 11 is set to go to post for an intriguing renewal of the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The mile-and-a-half contest usually takes place on the final day of the showpiece meeting, but has moved to Friday this year as part of the re-scheduling of races necessitated by the delayed start to the season following the coronavirus shutdown

Defoe defends his crown for Roger Varian, having been fifth in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket on his reappearance, a race in which Aidan O’Brien’s Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck finished runner-up. The pair re-oppose, as do Alounak (sixth) and Desert Encounter (seventh).

Mark Johnston has two contenders in the shape of Communique and Elarqam, the latter having last been seen running a fine race when just failing to reel in Lord North in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Haydock.

That form was significantly boosted when the winner impressed in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on Wednesday, and the five-year-old looks sure to be popular as he tries 12 furlongs for the first time.

Johnston’s son and assistant, Charlie, said: “(Owner) Sheikh Hamdan (Al Maktoum) left it in our hands to make the decision (this race or Prince of Wales’s) – and we felt it was the right race.

“We’re not ruling out going back to a mile and a quarter, and his big midsummer target will be the Juddmonte at York – a track at which he goes so well.

“In the short-term, though, we’re interested to try a mile and a half because there are signs he could improve for it – and if he does it opens up a lot more doors going forwards.

“He will improve a little for Haydock. He was built up in March and then again in May, so he’d done plenty of home work before Haydock.

“But like in that race, he’s not exuberant – he only does what he has to do, he’s quite laid back.”

Unraced at three, the William Haggas-trained Hamish had some solid efforts to his name last season, including winning the Melrose Handicap at York.

Haggas said: “It’s the first run of the year for him, but he is in cracking form.

“It’s a tough place to start. But we have to start somewhere, and opportunities are limited, so we thought it was worth giving it a go.”

Fanny Logan promises to be a major player for John Gosden and Frankie Dettori – while confirmed soft-ground specialist Morando represents Andrew Balding, and David Simcock saddles Spanish Mission, who was a winner in America last year. Michael Bell’s Eagles By Day completes the field.

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