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ASCOT, BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND – Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum’s Defoe proved to be too tough in stretch, holding off a furiously-rallying Nagano Gold to pick up his second straight Group win in Saturday’s Hardwicke Stakes (G2) on Day 5 of the Royal Ascot meet.
Breaking from the gates as the 2/1 stateside favorite under Andrea Atzeni, Defoe settled comfortably in the back half of the eight-horse field while Salouen led for the opening mile. As the field rounded the far turn, Mirage Dancer took first run at the pacesetter and held the lead shortly after straightening at the top of the stretch.
Behind him, Defoe was revving up for a big run down the middle of the lane. Defoe assumed the lead with 2 furlongs remaining, then held off a late push from Nagano Gold to win the 1 1/2-mile event by a 1/2-length in a final time of 2:31.11.
“Defoe is very straightforward and he’s actually a dream horse to ride,” Atzeni said. “He’s very cool beforehand, and he jumped and traveled well. We didn’t go very quick, and then turning into the straight, Masar came to me fairly easily, but to be fair to him, he picked up nicely and fought all the way to the line.”
If not for his poor luck at the break, Nagano Gold may have pulled the upset, but shortly after the gates sprung open, Masar stumbled and veered into Nagano Gold’s lane, forcing jockey Christophe Soumillon to steady. Despite that, he regrouped and was able to finish 1 length past Mirage Dancer for second. The rest of the field crossed thusly: Morando, Masar, Southern France, Salouen, and Communique.
Lah Ti Dar was a non-runner.
Defoe’s victory was his second straight after winning the Investec Coronation Cup (G1) at Epsom on May 31 for trainer Roger Varian. The 5-year-old gelded son of Dalakhani carries a career record of 18-9-4-1.
“Defoe is a lovely horse to train and I’m very grateful to have him,” Varian said. “He is such a straightforward horse who just tries for you and is getting better with age – he is a joy to train.”
Defoe returned $6.60 to win and $2.20 to place, Nagano Gold brought back $12.40 to place, and Mirage Dancer paid $4 to place.
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