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Stoute defers Crystal Ocean's Group 1 return and eyes repeat Aston Park triumph

Crystal Ocean and Ryan Moore outclassed their rivals in the 2018 Aston Park
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2.25 Newbury
Al Rayyan Stakes (registered as the Aston Park Stakes) | 1m4f | Group 3 | 4yo+ | ITV/RTV

Sir Michael Stoute's stated aim with Crystal Ocean this year is for his star middle-distance performer to win a first Group 1. For now, however, the master trainer is content to let the five-year-old swim in familiar less rarefied waters.

Three Group 1 missions have resulted in three Group 1 seconds for Crystal Ocean, who was given next Sunday's Tattersalls Gold Cup as a possible next target after completing back-to-back victories in the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown.

Crystal Ocean was an easy winner at Newbury 12 months ago

That was a Group 3, as is the race best known as the Aston Park Stakes, which Sir Evelyn de Rothschild's wonderfully admirable performer won in 2018. He returns to Newbury after Stoute opted against a trip to the Curragh and a clash with Aidan O'Brien's Magical.

Stoute, who feels he had Crystal Ocean fitter for his Sandown return than was the case last season, said: "He won this race last year and it suits his programme. The race in Ireland would be tough. Aidan's good filly will be very competitive there, and as it's only May we decided to go back to Newbury. It did no harm last year.

"He'll hopefully then go to Ascot. He's in the Hardwicke, which he won last year, but he's also in the Prince of Wales's Stakes."

Crystal Ocean was a striking winner on his Sandown reappearance

The Prince of Wales's would allow Crystal Ocean another crack at Group 1 glory, and Stoute's former assistant Owen Burrows, who saddles John Porter Stakes third Laraaib, would much rather the return to top-flight racing had come slightly sooner.

Burrows said: "Laraaib has been in good nick since his reappearance and he goes back to Newbury in great form but I didn't count on my old boss running Crystal Ocean, who looked better than ever at Sandown. I was praying he would run him in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, as on ratings we have a lot to find, but you can't run away from one horse."

Laraaib enjoyed his finest hour when winning the Cumberland Lodge Stakes

Ronnie Arculli has never been one to run away from any horse and is happy to throw in Red Verdon, who chased home Crystal Ocean in the Hardwicke.

"Mr Arculi is always very brave," said trainer Ed Dunlop. "We are not at all surprised we're taking on an odds-on shot, and I'm sure Crystal Ocean will win, but we feel we can forget his last run at Newmarket and he seems in very good form."

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He'll hopefully go to Ascot but let's get Saturday over with first
E.W. Terms