The Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes is a quality middle distance contest for some of the better emerging middle-distance talent and in 2018, Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean bids to produce his graduation performance and prove himself a force to be reckoned with in all of the top Group 1 races over 12f for the remainder of the campaign.
A typical slow-burner for his patient trainer, who has now broken Sir Henry Cecil’s record of Royal Ascot winners, Crystal Ocean ended his 3yo season with an excellent 2nd in the St Leger at Doncaster last September, which left the door open for this Sea The Stars colt to be a top class middle distance performer if continuing his progression in 2018.
He was workmanlike but gutsy when landing the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown at the back end of April, over an inadequate trip of 1m2f. It was a rusty effort, but one which left him spot on for his next out at Newbury, in the Group 3 Al Rayyan Stakes, over a more agreeable distance of 1m4f. Crystal Ocean produced an outstanding display. They went a moderate gallop here which wouldn’t have suited this strong stayer, but when faced with the long, galloping Newbury home straight, his sustained stride and ability to wind up the fractions to put his smart rivals to the sword was a joy to behold. He ran to an RPR of 122 here, but left the impression that he is certainly capable of even better in a more strongly run contest.
It is a big step to suggest he can become a King George, Arc De Triomphe, Breeders’ Cup Turf sort of horse from winning a Newbury Group 3, but Sir Michael Stoute is a genius when it comes to steadily improving and producing horses of his profile to reach the top at just the right time.
Make no mistake about it, Crystal Ocean has a big day ahead of him on Saturday. A convincing victory will set up him up for a mouth-watering attempt at the King George, where he would potentially clash with stablemate Poet’s Voice, Cracksman and Enable. A loss for Crystal Ocean will pretty much put an end to any hope of him realistically competing at that level. So, he needs to win the Hardwicke and win it well, in order for a Group 1winning plan in 2018 to be viable.
Idaho, Barsanti and Defoe represent stiff opposition to the market leader and there’s no doubt any one of those three have the ability to expose any chinks in the armour of others in the race, including Crystal Ocean. But this son of Sea The Stars is heading very much in the right direction and with his trainer in hot form right now, it would take a brave punter to confidently take him on in the 3.05pm at Royal Ascot on Saturday.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.