To many Newmarket’s Adnams July Course is the epitome of an English idyll: verdant weeping willows, perfectly manicured beds of roses, spotless white tents and well-dressed racegoers – the gentlemen in linen suits and women in bold summer dresses.
The Jockey Club-owned racecourse, of course, fosters a unique garden-party charm and its showpiece July Festival is not only positioned at the heart of the English summer social scene but remains one of the integral summer festivals of the racing calendar.
What’s more, amid the gentile splendour is one of the UK’s finest, most fiercely contested sprints, the Darley July Cup. First run in 1876, the six-furlong G1 is contested on the straight track, known as the the Bunbury Mile, and begins with a long downhill stretch before the final uphill furlong to the finish.
Open to 3-year olds and above, the July Cup is one of the first clash of the ages in the sprint season, with many of its winners going on to be crowned Europe’s champion sprinter, as was the case with Harry Angel in 2017.
Twelve of the 18 winners this century have been aged 3 or 4, with 17 3-year olds tasting success since 1980 despite their relatively low involvement in the race. There is, of course, a 6lb allowance for the 3-year olds, but many believe the introduction of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot has helped the young pretenders gain momentum into the race. Two of the past three winners have used the Ascot race as a springboard to success in Newmarket.
Given this recent trend, one would suspect that 6-year olds Brando and 2016 winner Limato, or the 7-year old Australian raider Redkirk Warrior are unlikely to claim the £283,550 on offer to the winning connections.
Of the experienced triumvirate, Redkirk Warrior has created the most column inches, and trainer David Hayes will hope that the horse can bounce back after a disappointing tenth under Frankie Dettori in the G1 Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot when well fancied. He is back with his regular partner, Regan Bayliss, and impressed on a racecourse gallop earlier in the week.
“He seemed to handle the undulations well and he’s pulled up well. If he brings his A game he could win it, make no mistake,” said Bayliss.
Warm favourite is Godolphin’s Blue Point, who was an impressive winner of the King’s Stand Stakes at this year’s Royal meeting. Perceived by some to be an Ascot specialist, this will be the 4-year old’s first run on the July Course. Moreover, in trainer Charlie Appleby and jockey William Buick, the Shamardal colt has one of the form pairings in the TRC Global Rankings to aide him.
“I have been pleased with his preparation for this,” Appleby said. “After the Hong Kong experience, we gave him a little break, and he returned in cracking form. And there’s every indication he’s come forward again for the race at Ascot.
“Conditions are there to suit him on Saturday. He’s got a nice draw (10), and he’s got the right horses around him. There are no worries with him stepping back up to six furlongs, and it will be nice quick ground. I don’t see a negative.”
Another 4-year old sporting the famous Godolphin blue is John Gosden’s lightly raced Dreamfield, the son of Oasis Dream, who won the July Cup himself for his trainer in 2003.
The colt finished a narrow second to Bacchus in the Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot after a monumental gamble from punters that saw him start at odds of 2-1 in the 28-horse handicap sprint. A result bookmakers claim saved them £3 million across the industry.
“We'll give it a go,” said Gosden. “With these sprints, you can run them five times and get five different results. It’s a big jump [in class]. He’s a horse who has been lightly-raced due to injury. I expect him to run a nice race. I do not expect him to win.”
The 3-year old generation, with such a strong record of late, has five representatives, headed by Aidan O’Brien’s 2017 European champion juvenile US Navy Flag, who is dropping down from a mile (the Ballydoyle handler runs four others - Intelligence Cross, Spirit Of Valor, Fleet Review and Sioux Nation). While Sir Michael Stoute's Eqtidaar and Richard Fahey's Sands Of Mali, first and second in the Commonwealth Cup (separated by half a length), will now face their elders for the first time.