Racing: Anthem to stand his ground

ROYAL ANTHEM will be the focus of attention in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot today as he goes on trial for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes over the same course and distance next month.

It was on this card 12 months ago that Henry Cecil's late-maturing colt burst onto the scene with victory in the King Edward VII Stakes. He went on to land a famous triumph in the Canadian International at Woodbine before disappointing in the Breeders' Cup Turf, nevertheless ending his 1998 campaign as many people's idea of the best middle-distance colt staying in training as a four-year-old.

Royal Anthem, a very tall individual, seemed ill-suited by Epsom's switchback circuit on his reappearance in the Coronation Cup at the Derby meeting and, in an unsuitably steadily-run contest, was easily brushed aside by Daylami, the altogether speedier winner of last year's 10-furlong Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.

However, sure to be fitter now and back at one of his happier hunting grounds, ROYAL ANTHEM (nap, 3.05) should go one better. Sea Wave, winner of the Great Voltiguer Stakes at York last summer and another progressive colt expected to do better at four, looks the obvious danger.

Clock watchers will no doubt be keenly comparing the time of the Hardwicke with that of the opening King Edward VII Stakes. The King Edward features a number of promising three-year-olds - notably Manndar and Yaralino - who were too immature to be trained for the Derby but are likely to come into their own as the season progresses. Today, however, they will receive the sternest of examinations from Housemaster (next best, 2.30), who made up an enormous amount of ground in the closing stages to finish fourth to Oath in the Derby at Epsom.

If Wednesday's Royal Hunt Cup is any guide, high numbers will have the edge in the Wokingham Handicap so Further Outlook (3.45), drawn 30 of 30 and in great form since being returned to sprint distances, should not be far away.

If there is a Marwell or a Dayjur lurking among the field of 18 for the King's Stand Stakes, it has, thus far, disguised its outstanding sprinting ability in a manner of which The Scarlet Pimpernel would have been proud.

However, Lujain (4.20), who shaped well when finishing fifth to Sampower Star in the Duke Of York Stakes over six furlongs at the York May meeting, having won the Middle Park Stakes over the same distance at Newmarket last autumn as a two-year-old, is unlikely to find Ascot's stiff five furlongs a hindrance, looks favourably drawn and should go close.

Whoever prevails today has a long way to go to emulate the feats of the flying filly Marwell, who in 1981 won this en route to victory in the July Cup and the Prix de l'Abbaye, still less the mighty Dayjur, who in 1990 went on win the Nunthorpe, the Haydock Sprint Cup and the Prix de l'Abbaye before his luckless trip to the United States where he had the Breeders' Cup Sprint in the bag until hurdling a shadow 50 yards from the line and getting caught by Safely Kept.

There is a strong tip doing the rounds for Rod Millman's Optimaite (4.55) in the Windsor Castle Stakes, while in the closing race of the Royal meeting and the longest Flat race of the year, the Queen Alexandra Stakes over two miles six furlongs and 34 yards, Henry Cecil's thorough stayer Canon Can (5.30) is capable of repeating his 1997 success.

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