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Maher caught in the Middle at Royal Ascot

There might not be any Australian-trained runners on Day 5 at Royal Ascot, but the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes still bears close attention for those with an eye to the Spring Carnival. The Melbourne Cup is a possibility for several of the nine runners, including one who will soon join the Ciaron Maher stable.

Earlier this year Maher bought a half-share in Middle Earth, who has remained in the care of John and Thady Gosden but will join Maher ahead of the Melbourne spring.

The four-year-old is by Roaring Lion out of the Galileo mare Roheryn, which makes him a half-brother to Buckaroo (GB), a son of Fastnet Rock who started his career in Ireland but is now in the care of Chris Waller.

Buckaroo (GB) (blue and vanilla colours) placed in the Ranvet Stakes behind Via Sistina (Ire); picture sportpix.com.au

Buckaroo (GB) is yet to win in Australia but placed behind classy imports Via Sistina (Ire) and Place Du Carrousel (Ire) in the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) earlier this year.

Middle Earth will be lining up for just his eighth start in the Hardwicke Stakes, a 2414-metre weight-for-age event that will be run at 12.05am Sunday AEST.

The entire has won four races, including the Listed Noel Murless Stakes (2816m) last October, while his only start this year resulted in a ferocious last-to-first win in the Group 3 Aston Park Stakes (2414m) at Newbury on May 18.

Middle Earth's only Group 1 start came in last year's English St Leger (2816m), when he finished a 16-length seventh at $8.50, but John Gosden had a simple explanation for that, which is worthwhile remembering for later in the year should Melbourne encounter a wet spring.

"He's like his father, he likes good ground — good to firm and firm — he's not a lover of soft ground," Gosden, who also trained Roaring Lion, said earlier in the year.

"He hated the ground in the St Leger last year. It was too loose, and he does not like it. So, if they get one of those downpours in Melbourne we may as well all stay in the hotel."

Ascot has been bathed in sunshine for this year's Royal meeting and Saturday's track is likely to be in the good-to-firm range.

Middle Earth is second favourite for the Hardwicke Stakes, behind only the English St Leger winner Continuous, who will be having his first start since finishing fifth in last year's Arc De Triomphe.

Also in contention is Isle Of Jura, who trainer George Scott has openly said is auditioning for a trip to Melbourne later in the year.

A last-start winner of the Listed Festival Stakes (1990m) at Goodwood, Isle Of Jura is a half-brother to recently-retired dual Australian Cup winner and $10 million-earner Cascadian (GB).

The King Charles III-owned Desert Hero, the Hardwicke Stakes third favourite, is also likely to be courted by Racing Victoria's international scouts after being an entry for last year's Melbourne Cup.

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