The Hardwicke Stakes is certainly a race that Sir Michael Stoute has developed something of a love affair with.

After all, he’s responsible for training eight winners since 2006, including four of the last five.

It’s a Royal Ascot race he appears to have a live chance in again in 2019, with Mirage Dancer tasked with following in the hoofsteps of Telescope (2014), Snow Sky (2015), Dartmouth (2016) and Crystal Ocean (2018).

See the full Hardwicke Stakes betting market

The case for backing Mirage Dancer

While the likes of Masar and Defoe are previous winners at Group 1 level, Mirage Dancer is seeking a career best in this Group 2 showcase. His biggest victory to date has been at Group 3 level.

However, he has placed form in Group 2 races and arrives at Royal Ascot in tip-top form, quickening clear to make light work of a Listed race at Goodwood.

Mirage Dancer’s Ascot form is also more than solid, including when fifth at the Royal meeting 12 months ago in the Wolferton Stakes. That race was over an inadequate 1m2f and he additionally encountered some interference in running.

Now back over his strongest trip of 1m4f, a maiden Group 2 triumph looks a strong possibility.

The case for swerving Masar

There are numerous reasons for Masar being a popular Hardwicke Stakes selection.

His victory in last year’s Epsom Derby is the best form in the race, he’s rated 3lb better than any other runner and four-year-old runners have landed each of the last nine renewals.

However, Masar has been off the track for over a year after getting injured during his preparations for the Eclipse and connections turned down the chance to run in the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes earlier this week.

This suggests that they have reservations as to whether the horse retains his best form and this is certainly a tune up for bigger engagements later in the season, with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe a possible future option.

For the winner of the Hardwicke Stakes, there’s the added perk of being guaranteed a start in the Caulfield Cup in Melbourne in October, which is among Australia’s richest horse races.