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Key quotes as Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck bids for Hardwicke glory

Anthony Van Dyck: Investec Derby winner at his best on quick ground
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3.00 Ascot
Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2) | 1m4f | 4yo+ | ITV/SKY

Anthony Van Dyck has raced exclusively at Group 1 level since winning the Derby last June and Friday's assignment will be the first time he has competed away from the top echelon since Epsom – if Aidan O'Brien allows him to take his chance.

The master of Ballydoyle has warned that rain-softened ground could see his four-year-old bypass this Group 2 prize, in which he would be seeking his first victory in seven starts since striking in the Derby.

At the time it looked a substandard premier Classic, with less than a length covering the first five home. The third, Japan, went on to land the Grand Prix de Paris and Juddmonte International, while the sixth, Circus Maximus, has thrived since being dropped back in trip and clinched the third Group 1 of his career with a trademark battling success in Tuesday’s Queen Anne Stakes.

Anthony Van Dyck: provided Aidan O'Brien with a seventh Investec Derby last year

The messy nature of the Derby finish suggests the best horse might not have won but those with an emotional stake in the Derby's status will be hoping this drop in class will enable Anthony Van Dyck to return to the winner’s enclosure.

Aidan O’Brien’s colt appeared to run his best race since Epsom when chasing home Ghaiyyath in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket a fortnight ago.

It was always going to take a high-class and strong-running performance to peg back Ghaiyyath after that rival got rolling with an uncontested lead.

And while he never looked like pulling off that feat, Anthony Van Dyck did stay on best in the final furlong to finish a clear second ahead of star stayer Stradivarius.

There is no doubt Anthony Van Dyck should be the Hardwicke favourite, but he most certainly doesn’t appeal as the type to be smashing into at 6-4, particularly with the ground likely to soften.

A close weather watch is advised if you are considering a bet on him.

Last year’s winner Defoe has been well beaten in two of his three starts since staying on strongly to deny Nagano Gold by half a length on the royal heath.

In fact, the aggregate distance beaten for those two starts is 50 lengths, so it’s hard to recommend him with any degree of confidence. He finished nearly 14 lengths behind Anthony Van Dyck in the Coronation Cup last time out.

Defoe: seeking back-to-back wins in the Hardwicke Stakes

Elarqam is clearly a major player. His impressive three-and-a-quarter-length defeat of Addeybb in the Group 2 York Stakes last July clearly reads all the better for the runner-up’s money-spinning Australian exploits this spring.

And even more so his short-head Haydock second to Lord North in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes following that winner's explosive success over Addeybb in Wednesday's Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes.

Few would raise their eyebrows if Fanny Logan or Hamish caused a minor shock by landing the Hardwicke. The John Gosden-trained Fanny Logan finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf last November, while Hamish remains open to further improvement this year after landing three of his six career starts.

He ran out one of the easiest big handicap winners of 2019 when strolling home by two and three-quarter lengths off a mark of 98 at York in October.

Elarqam: stepping up to 1m4f for the first time on Friday

That was over 1m6f on soft ground, so his stamina could well prove a valuable weapon if underfoot conditions get testing. It is a big ask on Hamish’s first start of the season – and first race in Group company – but the son of Motivator could have what it takes to make a big splash.
Race analysis by Richard Birch

Elarqam out to build on Lord North form 

Form boosts don't come much better than Elarqam's Brigadier Gerard Stakes second to Lord North 12 days ago, with that short-head defeat shown in an excellent light when John Gosden's new middle-distance star bolted up in the Prince of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday.

Mark Johnston's five-year-old is bred for Royal Ascot success, being a son of Frankel and Attraction, who each recorded two wins at this meeting, but the step up to 1m4f is unknown territory for the classy operator having never raced beyond 1m2½f.

Last year's 2019 Juddmonte International third scored on soft ground at York in the Group 2 Sky Bet York Stakes, reversing the form of his Wolferton Stakes defeat to Addeybb on testing ground at last year's royal meeting. 

"I was obviously very impressed with Lord North in the Prince of Wales's Stakes," said Angus Gold, racing manager to the blisteringly hot Hamdan Al Maktoum operation.

Angus Gold on Elarqam: "Personally, I always felt he would stay it, but the ground could be a factor, although it will be the same for everyone"

"While we were disappointed on the day [at Haydock] and almost felt he should and could have won, in light of Wednesday's form it doesn't look so disappointing."

He added of Elarqam's credentials for stepping up in trip: "What worries me is the ground. When he ran on it last year at Ascot, I remember various people felt he didn't stay but Jim [Crowley] was adamant he just didn't like the ground.

"I would be concerned about that and it's obviously annoying to encounter this ground trying a mile and a half for the first time. Personally, I always felt he would stay it, but the ground could be a factor, although it will be the same for everyone."

What they say

Aidan O'Brien, trainer of Anthony Van Dyck
We were delighted with his run at Newmarket in the Coronation Cup. The ground would be a worry with him and if it's soft, I wouldn't be sure we'd run him. We'll see what way that goes. We ran him on bad ground in the King George at Ascot last year and felt after that we shouldn't have done it, so if it's soft he might not run.

Roger Varian, trainer of Defoe
He'll appreciate being on a better surface than he has been on the last twice and he won the race last year, so he has every chance. He paid the price when trying to serve it up to Ghaiyyath at Newmarket last time but he has come out of that in good shape and I think he'll bounce back.

Michael Bell, trainer of Eagles By Day
I’m not totally convinced soft ground will suit, but he ran very well in the King Edward VII when he was third staying on well. His best performance was at Ascot last year, so we know he likes the track. The ground is a big concern if it’s proper soft ground.

John Gosden, trainer of Fanny Logan
She goes on any ground and got a little tired when second on her return at Haydock. She's improved at home since but is taking on the colts.
Reporting by Mark Boylan

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He'll appreciate being on a better surface than he has been on the last twice and he won the race last year, so he has every chance
E.W. Terms