It's been a tricky week for punters but Kevin Blake recommends putting your faith in Elarqam in today's Hardwicke Stakes
"The way he has shaped over a mile-and-a-quarter gives great encouragement that he will stay this longer trip and the last time he ran on soft ground he produced the most impressive win of his career at York last July."
As we reach the halfway point in what is the most surreal and bizarre version of Royal Ascot that has ever been seen, it hasn't been the easiest of weeks for bettors in the main. However, the Hardwicke Stakes (Friday, 15:00) looks to present one of the more attractive betting opportunities of the meeting.
The Mark Johnston-trained Elarqam currently heads the market with the second favourite being last year's Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, but it is far from a two-horse race. Cases can be made for plenty, but for me, that can be narrowed right down once the likely tactics are considered.
Communique's presence aids Elarqam's win bid
With none of the big yards running an obvious pace maker, a search for a likely leader doesn't bear much fruit. In fact, the only two that one could consider possible front runners based on their previous form are the Mark Johnston pair Communique and Elarqam. This makes for a potentially very interesting conundrum.
Communique's stamina for this trip is in no doubt, while Elarqam is running over this trip for the first time. While that fact might make it seem unlikely that Mark Johnston will want to make the running with Elarqam, I'm very much hoping that he will.
Elarqam has always looked a very talented horse. Considering he finished fourth to Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas on just his third career start in 2018, he was in danger of becoming a bit disappointing when going on a losing run that lasted for more than a year after that. A breathing operation prior to his return as a four-year-old last season seemed to have a positive impact on him and he started to fulfil his potential. He won three of his seven starts, most notably giving a 3¼-lengths beating to Addeybb in the York Stakes. He followed that up with what was perhaps his best effort, a better-than-the-result third to Japan and Crystal Ocean in the Juddmonte International where he got precious little room when he needed it most. That run showed Elarqam's Group 1 potential.
While Elarqam met with defeat on his seasonal reappearance in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Haydock, it was a run that I view very positively. Of course, the form got a big boost with the winner Lord North bolting up in the Prince of Wales's Stakes earlier this week, but the encouragement I took from Elarqam's run was in how he was ridden.
For the first time in quite a while, Elarqam made the running at Haydock. Considering he can often take a strong hold in behind runners, he settled very nicely in the lead. If anything, he settled too well, as he ended up setting just a steady pace, which led to Lord North out-speeding him a furlong out before Elarqam's stamina kicked in and he closed the gap all the way to the line.
Given how well he settled, that appeals as being the way to ride Elarqam. The way he has shaped over a mile-and-a-quarter gives great encouragement that he will stay this longer trip and the last time he ran on soft ground he produced the most impressive win of his career at York last July. Considering the lack of potential front runners, he is tipped in the hope that he sets out to make the running. If he does, I think he'll take an awful lot of beating.
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Back Elarqam @ 11/43.7 to win the Hardwicke Stakes (Royal Ascot, 15:00)