Panther can score for Owen

Brown Panther has his last outing before Royal Ascot in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown this evening (7.15), and with underfoot conditions holding no fears looks the one to beat.

Owned by former England striker Michael Owen, the six-year-old looked better than ever when winning the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes in the mud at Chester earlier in the month.

After being slowly away, the son of Shirocco recovered quickly to track the leader and after kicking for home two furlongs out kept on gamely to beat Hillstar by 2 1/4 lengths.

That form looks strong, as the runner-up was a progressive sort last season, landing the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in good style before finishing a cracking third to Novelist in the Group 1 King George.

That was also Brown Panther’s first start since getting struck into during his run in the Melbourne Cup, in which he finished eighth, and he looks sure to come on for it.

The success left connections dreaming of Gold Cup glory at Royal Ascot, and it’s 10 years since a horse won this race before triumphing in the 2m 4f show piece at the Berkshire track.

Brown Panther is currently a 10/1 chance with Coral for the Gold Cup, and success in this evening’s 2m contest may well see those odds shorten.

The main danger to Brown Panther would appear to be the Alan King trained Tiger Cliff.

A progressive stayer last season when trained by Lady Cecil, the five-year-old ran a blinder on his first try at Group level when a 3/4 length third to Gospel Choir in the Yorkshire Cup.

The son of Tiger Hill held every chance until being unable to quicken near the finish, and with proven form in testing conditions looks a major player.

Other interesting contenders are last year’s Gold Cup sixth El Salvador, who makes seasonal reappearance for Aidan O’Brien, and Girolamo who travels over from Germany.

High Jinx and Camborne can also not be discounted on the pick of their form, and Newmarket handler Marco Botti has an interesting runner in the ex-German Seismos who won a Group 1 contest when trained by Andreas Wohler and has the the Melbourne Cup as his long-term target.