Trainer Henry Candy has identified Blue Point as the horse to beat in the feature race of the Moët & Chandon July Festival, the G1 £500,000 Darley July Cup, at Newmarket’s Adnams July Course on Saturday.
The fourth of seven races in the Sprint category of the QIPCO British Champions Series and the first time that 3-year-olds get to take on older horses over six furlongs at G1 level, the July Cup has attracted a stellar field of 14 runners, including seven different individual G1 winners.
The race has an exceptional pedigree. In 2017 it was rated as the world’s joint top sprint by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and each of its last five winners have gone on to be crowned as the top European-trained sprinter in the end-of-season World's Best Racehorse Rankings.
Candy is hoping stable star Limato will bounce back to form to become the first horse in the race’s 142-year history to regain the July Cup. Limato was a brilliant winner of its 2016 renewal and finished second 12 months ago.
He went on to score a clear-cut success in the seven-furlong G2 Godolphin Stud And Stable Staff Awards Challenge Stakes at the neighbouring Rowley Mile Course last October but, stepped up to a mile, he has since come only tenth in the G1 Lockinge Stakes and 13th in the G1 Queen Anne Stakes.
Blue Point has been regarded as a fantastic prospect ever since he was placed in two G1s - the Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes and the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes – as a 2-year-old in 2016. But it took him until the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot last month to finally makes his G1 breakthrough.
Already a three-time July Cup winner, Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien will be mob-handed with five runners, including the dual juvenile G1 winner of last autumn, U S Navy Flag, who is another dropping back in trip having been contesting mile races.
The 3-year-old generation has five more representatives, spearheaded by Eqtidaar and Sands Of Mali, first and second (separated by half a length) in the G1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.
Other leading home-trained candidates are Brando, third in this race last year and subsequently successful in the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest, and the very lightly-raced Dreamfield, making his initial stakes race start having finished second as the red-hot favourite for the Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot.
An intercontinental flavour is added by the presence of Redkirk Warrior. A three-time G1 hero down under, he will be a first ride in Europe for 21-year-old Australian Regan Bayliss, who is currently ranked 95 in the TRC Global Jockeys’ Rankings and was identified as a TRC Emerging Talent last September.
“Limato is in very good form but Blue Point will take an awful lot of beating,” said Candy. “Limato has not been any different at home than he was this time last year, though that has not been reflected in his two starts this season. He ran much too free in the Queen Anne last time - that’s why we are dropping him back to sprinting.
“He does seem to like Newmarket, though I can’t put my finger on why, and if he were to become to the first horse to reclaim the July Cup title it would be very welcome.”