Royal Ascot 2018
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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Will Defoe Rise to the Challenge at Royal Ascot?

Roger Varian has announced his decision to send his charge Defoe forward for the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot as the Irish horse looks to announce himself on the major stage. The four-year-old put forward a weak performance in his last outing in a high-profile race, finishing tenth in the St Leger Stakes at Doncaster Racecourse last season.

Defoe has found his form at the start of the 2018 flat campaign, winning his opening two races of the term. However, he was off form in his last outing in Curragh, placing third in the Tattersalls Gold Cup. As a result, his best fixed odds are in the range of 10/1 for the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, although his starting price may alter depending on conditions on the day itself.

Past Success

Defoe began his career towards the end of the 2016 season, making his bow at the EBF Maiden Stakes. Varian’s charge delivered a win after being considered favourite for the event, edging out his nearest rival Bianca Minola by a head. He was unable to build on his victory at the Conditions Stakes, although he finished second in the meet at Epsom Racecourse. By the end of the term, Defoe was ready to step up to a Class One race, although he was well off the pace, finishing down in 11th.

The grey colt returned to action for the next season after a seven-month break from the action. He was not considered the favourite at Newbury in the London Gold Cup Handicap. With Andrea Atzeni in the saddle, he was able to pull off a fine ride to defeat Mucho Applause by one-and-three-quarter lengths, ending the race with a comfortable romp down the stretch. Harry Bentley took the reins for his next appearance at York, and although the Irish horse made a poor start to proceedings, he found his rhythm towards the closing stages of the meet. Defoe had the pace when it mattered the most, using his speed to close then beat out Society Red for the victory.

Hamilton Park was next on the agenda for Varian’s charge at the EBF Glasgow Stakes. Once again the Irish horse was the leading contender for the win and he did not disappoint as Bentley remained in the saddle, delivering a confident display to triumph by one-and-a-half lengths. The victory was his first in a Class One event, raising the confidence of his team that he was capable of challenging at the St Leger Stakes. Defoe enhanced his reputation with a win just before the meet at Doncaster, triumphing at the Geoffrey Freer Stakes as Atzeni returned to the saddle to guide his charge over the line by three-quarters of a length ahead of his nearest rival, leaving him ready for the challenge.

As a result, Defoe is likely to draw a flurry of activity with bookmakers prior to his Ascot turn. Bettors can take a risk by trying to get the best value before the race, which may see the starting price drift or narrow due to circumstances, such as injury, weather or track conditions. The safest option is to select the fixed price, but the temptation with value is always there. Defoe may have produced some fine displays, but he’s also had a few low points this season as well.

Failure and Redemption

Varian’s charge was a decent shout for the St Leger Stakes, although he was considered a slight outsider for the crown, despite his strong run of form entering the races. Defoe failed to hit his stride in the meet as he struggled to make his way through the crowded field. He lacked the speed of his contemporaries as the Irish horse petered out down the final furlong, finishing next to last in the event. It marked a huge disappointment for the grey colt, Atzeni and Varian, ending a promising term on the lowest of notes as Aidan O’Brien’s charge Capri won the event.

Defoe returned for the 2018 season at Newbury for the John Porter Stakes in April. He was the overwhelming 11/8 favourite for the race, despite his issues at Doncaster last time out. However, the Irish horse delivered his most convincing victory to date as Atzeni pulled his charge into the lead one furlong from the finish. He cantered away from the rest of the field to win the race by two-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of Danehill Kodiac.

The four-year-old produced a flawless performance at the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket in May. Defoe made steady strides from the off and was one of the pacesetters in the event. He did lose ground for a period, but quickly regained his rhythm towards the closing stages of the meet. The Irish horse was able to surge towards the line and claim his victory by three-and-three-quarter lengths ahead of Red Verdon. He had momentum heading into the Tattersalls Gold Cup and was considered the favourite for the event, but the experience of Lancaster Bomber and the Cliffs of Moher proved to be decisive as the two O’Brien horses finished first and second respectively, with Varian’s charge settling for third place. He does have the quality to make an impact at Royal Ascot, but will have to produce his best performance to secure the Hardwicke Stakes crown.