The evergreen eight-year-old showed he was no back-number when swooping to land a similar prize at Chester last month, being ridden to perfection by Graham Gibbons and quickening well when switched to challenge.
He had a 7lb penalty on the Roodee and it was no mean effort by the David Barron-trained gelding, who has generally been in great heart this year, having been on the go since Meydan in January.
Thirsk-based Barron has given him a relatively easy time of it through the summer, as he did last year, and it was only a couple of runs ago he was beating Reply to claim a Group Three in Ireland.
There are question marks about one or two of his rivals in terms of ground and while Hitchens is best on a sound surface, he does handle some cut.
Crucially he has a liking for York, rarely running a bad race on the Knavesmire.
The one to beat in this £37,000 feature race, part of a seven race card worth in excess of £100,000, is the Rae Guest-trained Mirza.
Mirza was a Listed winner at Cork last season and, while he hasn’t scaled those heights so far in 2013, he was a close third in the Group Three Chipchase Stakes at Newcastle.
That was with his preferred soft ground conditions and yesterday’s rain will have encouraged connections.
Newmarket-based Guest said: “He has run some good races this season, especially when he gets his ground.
“Like all sprinters, he needs everything to fall right for him,” added Guest.
“He’s in great form and if the ground comes up soft, I could see him running very well.”
Fragonard is a slightly speculative pick in the Coopers Marquees Stakes.
The Sir Robert Ogden-owned, Lady Cecil-trained filly made a promising two-year-old debut but missed the whole of last year through injury.
Her return at Kempton in June was quite promising but she was disappointing the following month at Lingfield.
If you are prepared to forgive that, she remains a lightly-raced sort and is probably capable of quite a bit better on her handicap bow off a mark of 75, with the yard going well and this being a favourite track of the owner.
Pearl Spice makes some appeal in the Castles UK Educational And Residential Furniture Stakes stepping back up to two miles.
Tim Pitt’s gelding has found this trip to his liking with wins at Nottingham and Kempton but was foiled in a hat-trick bid under a double penalty at Musselburgh, although he was beaten less than two lengths and looked like the mile-and-a-half trip was on the sharp side. He is bred to stay all day and will be hard to beat if soft ground turn this race into a real stamina test.
Jockey Paddy Aspell was taken to hospital for precautionary checks after he suffered a fall after the penultimate race at Newcastle yesterday.
Aspell parted company from Ursus when he tried to pull up his mount following the Northumbrian Water Handicap.
Newcastle clerk of the course James Armstrong said: “Paddy failed to pass the medical concussion questions on course and has gone to hospital to be checked over.”
Reckless Abandon is reported to be lame and will miss Saturday’s Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock.
Clive Cox’s three-year-old colt has been restricted to just two runs this term, having finished third in the Temple Stakes on his reappearance at Haydock and fifth in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He had gone through his juvenile campaign unbeaten in five races, culminating in Group One wins in the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes.
Cox still has the favourite in the six-furlong feature on Merseyside in Lethal Force, winner of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and July Cup this summer.