Panther books Gold-en ticket
Brown Panther settled any debate about the merits of going for the Gold Cup with a convincing victory in theHenry II Stakes at Sandown.
Heading to Royal Ascot will require the six-year-old to race over further than he ever has before, but Brown Panther was not stopping after two miles of very soft ground as he came three and a half lengths clear of High Jinx.
This was a third career Group race for the 2-1 favourite, bred and part-owned by Michael Owen, and he seems to have returned an even better horse this season as he also won the Ormonde at Chester after recovering from an injury sustained during the Melbourne Cup.
Richard Kingscote sat on the heels of the front-running German raider Girolamo as all but one of the field came to the stands side in the straight, and Brown Panther ploughed on relentlessly once hitting the front inside the final furlong.
Ladbrokes now offer 6-1 behind 2-1 favourite Leading Light about the Gold Cup, which takes place on the same day as England's second World Cup match against Uruguay.
Trainer Tom Dascombe said: "All he can do is turn up and do his best.
"He goes on any ground, trip doesn't seem to be an issue and we are delighted with him.
"Our horses rarely win first time out, he only had to beat a non-stayer (at Chester).
"So today was a test and realistically he had to come out on top if he was going to go for the Gold Cup.
"He's a half-brother to some three-mile hurdlers so the trip (in the Gold Cup) shouldn't be an issue."
Despite the quality on offer, there was a disappointing attendance on a largely gloomy evening and the ground conspired to scare off big names Hillstar and Remote in the Cantor Fitzgerald Brigadier Gerard Stakes.
Luckily, there was a terrific finish with 5-6 favourite Sharestan clinging on by a nose from outsider-of-three Sheikhzayedroad.
It had looked like being a simple enough task for Sharestan, who won his only start in Britain for Saeed bin Suroor last season, but Sheikhzayedroad threw down a determined challenge after Top Notch Tonto weakened and Kieren Fallon needed to pull out all the stops.
Bin Suroor said: "Last year he always carried some condition but his last three pieces of work have been much better than what he did last year.
"We gelded him, and the key has been the ground as he loves soft ground.
"A mile and a half will be better and the Hardwicke Stakes is his target."
Master Carpenter (3-1) has been tried quite highly this season but vindicated trainer Rod Millman as he annihilated his opponents in the Listed Cantor Fitzgerald Corporate Finance Heron Stakes.
Ryan Moore was the last to move to the stands rail and the colt produced a willing response.
"You don't tell Ryan Moore how to ride," Millman, celebrating his first ever treble in a day, said. "The best horse goes on the ground.
"I think this was his Royal Ascot but hopefully he'll run in some nice races later on."
Richard Hannon snr won four of the previous seven renewals of the Cantor Fitzgerald Equities National Stakes and his son made an immediate impact with Tiggy Wiggy (3-1), who quickly swept past Roudee inside the last of five furlongs.
Hannon said: "She will be entered in the Queen Mary and the Albany, but she will go for the Queen Mary and should have a great chance."
Tiggy Wiggy was shortened to 7-1 from 14s by RaceBets for that Royal Ascot race.
Michael Wigham has clearly found the key to Chain Of Events (7-2), who picked up a second win on the bounce in the Cantor Fitzgerald Research Handicap, while there was victory in the Cantor Fitzgerald Whitsun Cup Handicap for Karl Burke's well-backed Ishikawa (5-2 favourite), who was given a really positive ride by 7lb claimer Rob Fitzpatrick and battled on bravely in front.