Always a competitive contest, it has been won in the last two years by Time Test and Hawkbill, both of whom would subsequently step up in class to claim Group 2 and Group 1 victories, so it is a race with the potential to produce future stars. Read on for our tips and full race preview for the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot.
IN SUMMARY: Benbatl stormed home in the Derby from an unfavourable position and has to be respected but the far more interesting option is Mark Halford’s IRISHCORRESPONDENT. He was third in the Irish 2000 Guineas last time out on only his third start and he is half brother to two 1m 4f winners, so this step up in trip will likely see him in his best light. This faster ground should also help him improve further and with Shane Foley taking the ride, he looks likely to take all the beating.
1 LARCHMONT LAD – Useful at his best for Richard Hannon but the eye is drawn immediately to his 4lb penalty, which makes this a very tough task against some performers who have posted better form. Winning a Group 3 on his third start back in September, he has not been disgraced since and his latest run when narrowly beaten in Listed company was another sound effort. That said, he looks vulnerable with this penalty taken into account and he would be a surprise winner with all things considered.
2 BAY OF POETS – Runner-up to Cliffs Of Moher in the Dee Stakes, Godolphin’s horse has looked a little bit of a lad on occasions, so it was no surprise that after a moderate run in the French Derby, the ‘Boys In Blue’ took the option to geld him. Third behind Cracksman and Permian in the Derby Trial at Epsom and then his second the Dee Stakes, both form lines give him every right to be challenging for favouritism in this contest. He hung to the left on both occasions late on so it will be interesting to see if the operation has straightened him out. If it has, he holds solid each way claims for top connections.
3 BENBATL – Talented son of Dubawi who has been improving since winning on his debut at Doncaster with a third in the Craven at Newmarket and second in the Dante at York in subsequent runs. He was last seen in the Derby at Epsom; he gave away a few lengths at the start and he had no rivals behind him when turning into the home straight. He stormed home to grab fifth late on in a brilliant effort given the circumstances. A strongly run 1m 2f is likely to suit him and he has proven himself on ground as quick as this, so if matching that Derby form again for Saeed bin Suroor, he should be in the frame.
4 GOLD SPINNER – Irish raider for Ger Lyons who looks promising for Qatar Racing, winning his two starts after debut. Even though he needs more in this, he still remains with potential and could be a lively place contender at the prices. He posted a career best on his latest start to win a race at Navan comfortably and he now has his first start beyond the mile distance. His stamina is up for debate as his pedigree does not show him to have a huge amount. However, if he stays he has each way possibilities, but a strongly run race may just catch him out.
5 GREY BRITAIN – Exposed runner in the context of this race, but he did post a career best on his latest star at Newmarket in Listed company, holding on narrowly in a game performance. This is a tough ask after that narrow victory and he looks unlikely to be involved unless improving markedly for that run. That, again, does not seem likely as he has been relatively static in terms of improvement. Best watched.
6 IRISH CORRESPONDENT – Trained by Mark Halford, his dam is a half sister to Desert Quartz and Caspian Prince but this son of Teofilo has taken the stamina from his sire’s line. Not seen as a juvenile, he quickly made up for lost time when scoring in both his first two starts of 2017, at Leopardstown and The Curragh. On the latter start, he travelled powerfully into the lead a furlong from home, quickly putting four and a half lengths between himself and Homesman. That horse has won a Group 3 since so it was no surprise that Irishcorrespondent was targeted at the Irish 2000 Guineas. Third there to Churchill was a further improvement with the softer ground probably not ideal as the majority of Teofilo’s like it quick. This was mentioned as the next target soon afterwards and he looks the one to beat.
7 JAKE’S HILL – Broke his maiden at the fifth attempt when winning a Sandown maiden two weeks ago and although he’ll likely be winning handicaps in his time, this is very tough ask considering what he has achieved thus far for Eve Johnson Houghton. Yard is obviously in form and so is Charles Bishop, but his price speaks for itself.
8 KINGS GIFT – Won two of his first three starts for Michael Dods but he has been beaten in four Group races subsequently, last seen well beaten in the Poule d’Essai des Pulains at Deauville in May. He remains vulnerable kept in pattern company and despite in form jockey Paul Mulrennan taking the ride, he looks outclassed in this.
9 MIRAGE DANCER – Sir Michael Stoute trained son of Frankel who made a winning debut at Doncaster last season, running down Tafakkhor close to the line. That was over seven furlongs, evident even then that middle distances were likely to bring about improvement. That runner up is a consistent form guide though he is perhaps not 100% reliable when it comes to a finish. He would reappear in 2017, fourth behind Cliffs Of Moher in the Dee Stakes. Lit up early, he was short of room at a crucial stage before making noticeable late headway. Both the Doncaster maiden and the Dee Stakes were the route that Stoute took with Derby winner Kris Kin, significant that this horse is well enough regarded to be sent the same way, there is likely plenty of improvement left in the tank after just the two career starts. Cliffs Of Moher franked the form beautifully when runner up in The Derby so he has to be considered a main contender.
10 MUCHO APPLAUSE – Headstrong type for Andrew Balding who has finishing second the last twice for connections, though they were both in handicap company and this requires a big leap of progression. His latest second in the London Gold Cup at Newbury was a good run but the form is nowhere near the standard required, with marked improvment needed for him to feature. Looks an impossible task.
11 ORDEROFTHEGARTER – Useful individual for Aidan O’Brien who won a Listed race at Leopardstown with ease three starts ago before posting a career best on his latest start at Chantilly in the Prix du Jockey Club, finishing a very respectable sixth after being impeded late on. That form brings him straight into the equation and the booking of Ryan Moore only enhances his claims and he should go close with this better ground no problem. Respected.
12 RODAINI – Returned this season with a good effort when second in the European Free Handicap, but failed to back that up when well beaten in the Listed Heron Stakes at Sandown in May. Lots to find with most of these on the form and this step up in trip raises stamina doubts, as his pedigree doesn’t suggest this will suit him. Unlikely to be involved when it matters most.
13 SAVILE ROW – German raider who finished fifth in the German 2000 Guineas when last seen doing his best work late on and the step up in trip should work wonders with him on that evidence. However, the form isn’t quite up to standard with his British counterparts and he’ll need to have improved markedly if he’s to feature in this. Unlikely to make the cut.
14 SPEEDO BOY – Has returned this season with two good efforts in pattern company, winning a Listed race in France before running second in a Listed contest at Newmarket 47 days ago. He was nearly five lengths behind Permian that day which gives him something to find with most notably Benbatl and far more is needed in a tougher race if he’s to be involved. He’s likely set for a struggle on this occasion for Ian Williams.
15 TAJ MAHAL – Front runner who has only one win to his name from eleven starts, with that coming in a Nursery at Dundalk in October. He has gone close in pattern company though and is clearly talented, as proven by his fourth in the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly earlier this month. It would be no surprise to see him granted a soft lead in this and with Seamie Heffernan taking over in the plate, a canny ride could see him placing for Aidan O’Brien. Interesting.
16 TAMLEEK – Thrice raced for Saeed bin Suroor, improving markedly run for run, leaving his debut well behind when comfortably winning a maiden at Newmarket in April. He posted a career best on his latest start when fourth at Chester in the Vase, looking one paced towards the finish in a competitive race that included Derby winner Wings Of Eagles. More is needed on that latest run but he has looked progressive so far in his career and a big run would be no surprise. Place contender under Jim Crowley with conditions to suit.