There aren’t too many major handicaps run at seven furlongs, the intermediate distance between the top six furlong sprints and mile events, but the bet365 Bunbury Cup Handicap scheduled for Saturday 14 July at Newmarket gives a chance for horses who excel at this trip to take centre stage.
Named after Sir Charles Bunbury, a major figure in the administration of horse racing back in the 18th century, this is a handicap run on the straight but undulating seven furlongs of the July course at Newmarket, the home of British Flat racing. Such is the popularity of the race that in recent years a consolation event for those who miss the cut, the Silver Bunbury Cup Handicap, has been established, but ante-post bets placed on the Bunbury Cup relate to that race, and that race only.
For such a fiercely competitive £120,000 contest it is surprising that there have been dual winners of the race. Pat Haslam’s Mummy’s Pleasure won it in both 1983 and 1984, Ben Hanbury’s En Attendant repeated the feat in 1993 and 1994, while the remarkable Mine, trained by James Bethell, won it three times; in 2002, 2005, and 2006. Last year’s hero, Above The Rest, will bid to add his name to that list but races now off a 13lb higher mark than twelve months ago.
Can Above The Rest Hit The Heights Again?
Trained near Thirsk in North Yorkshire by the wiley David Barron, the now seven-year-old Above The Rest landed last year’s renewal off a mark of 101, running on well to defeat the talented Sir Dancealot by half a length. After six races without further success he took advantage of a slight drop in his rating to win a good handicap at York last month off 104, then followed up in fine style a fortnight later by comfortably beating Yafta in the Group 3 Chipchase over six furlongs at Newcastle.
Clifford Lee delivers Above The Rest with a perfectly timed challenge to win the bet365 Bunbury Cup Handicap at odds of 12-1. pic.twitter.com/NcClyIgXMu
— Newmarket Racecourse (@NewmarketRace) July 15, 2017
With his penalty for the pattern race success, Above The Rest (12/1 with William Hill) is set to carry joint top-weight of a massive 10st2lb (alongside Zhui Feng), should he be declared to run, and while Barron may find a decent apprentice to reduce that burden it looks a very stiff task to defy a rating 13lb higher than 12 months ago, even allowing for the fact that he is in great form and goes well at this track.
One trainer who I suspect will be hoping that the both top weights take their chance is William Haggas, whose two representatives, Society Power and Mubtasim would see their respective burdens rise in the absence of Above The Rest and Zhui Feng. Society Power is a highly progressive horse who is currently 32 of the 85 horses entered in the race. The chances are that enough horses will come out to see him get a run, but it is not a certainty.
Society Can Power To Victory
If he does get in, then SOCIETY POWER could well be the one they all have to beat. He won five races in a row prior to finishing a fine runner-up to the rejuvenated Expert Eye in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot last month, and if you take the winner out of that race – he is potentially back to Group 1 level – then Haggas’ charge did a fine job on the other 19 runners. Prior to his latest effort he had overcome trouble-in-running at Goodwood (see below) to win a £100,000 seven furlong handicap by a narrow margin from Emaraaty off a mark of 99, and despite a 6lb rise is arguably still on the right side of the handicapper. He is offered at 8/1 by Paddy Power at present and could go off much shorter on the day.
What a finish! Society Power gets up close home to complete a five-timer in the Netbet Sport Handicap under Andrea Atzeni. pic.twitter.com/FrVzYFJoT9
— Goodwood Racecourse (@Goodwood_Races) May 26, 2018
His stable companion Mubtasim is guaranteed a run if Haggas decides to let him run under 9st6lb. He was a smart juvenile and had good form last term as a three-year-old, including a fine third behind Harry Angel in the Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes over six furlongs at Haydock. He has had just two runs so far this term and put up a solid effort ast when a three-quarters-of-a-length second to Tabarrak in the listed Sprint Trophy over seven furlongs back at Haydock and is available at 12/1 with SportPesa.
George Scott’s Gilgamesh (8/1 with Sky Bet) is another major contender for honours and is very much a specialist seven furlong performer. He won his race on the unfavoured far side in the Victoria Cup at Ascot in May but made amends two weeks later when scoring at York over his optimum trip (see below), beating the useful So Beloved off a mark of 96.
Dropped back a furlong at Royal Ascot for the Wokingham Handicap, the four-year-old was denied a run two furlongs out but finished well when in the clear to come home 7th behind Bacchus, and would surely have got very much closer with a clearer passage. Back at seven furlongs Gilgamesh may well prove a danger to all and is very much respected.
— ᴋᴀʀᴀᴋᴏɴᴛɪᴇ𝟣𝟦 (@Karakontie14) May 26, 2018
There are so many other horses that you could make a case for in this wide-open event, among them Jamie Osborne’s Raising Sand (20/1 with Ladbrokes) who ended last season finishing a fine third behind the subsequent Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes hero Accidental Agent in a very valuable seven furlong handicap at Ascot in October. This season he began with a midfield finish in the Victoria Cup (having been slowly away), then did better last time out despite again being slowly away, finishing well to run a four-length seventh of 30 in the Royal Hunt Cup. If the gelded son of Oasis Dream can jump out on terms he must have a sporting chance of getting involved in the thick of the action.
At 33/1 with Bet365, David O’Meara’s Escobar is another who has the potential to go well at a big price. He was a listed winner as a two-year-old when trained by Hugo Palmer and was highly tried throughout last season, often running with credit but without troubling the judge. He joined O’Meara’s team in January and went close when beaten just half a length into third at Doncaster early last month before building on that promise to score over a mile at Haydock a few weeks later.
— Haydock Park Races (@haydockraces) June 14, 2018
Well backed for the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot a few weeks ago, he got a little worked up in the preliminaries but wasn’t disgraced in finishing 11th fo the 30 runners, and the feeling is that a strongly-run seven furlongs might well bring out the best in this gelded son of Famous Name who may well belie his odds.
South Seas Worth a Second Glance
A final suggestion for your consideration is South Seas (25/1 with BetVictor), a horse who has spent much of his career to date mixing it with some of the best in the business. He won the Group 3 Solario Stakes over seven furlongs as a juvenile in 2016 and finished second in a French Group 1 at the end of that campaign. His campaign last term was cut short by niggling injury and he only raced twice (including in the French 2000 Guineas) and was gelded, then returned this season to run two races at Chester where on each occasion he showed he retains plenty of ability but didn’t get the best of runs. Last time he failed by two-and-a-half lengths to give 12lb to course specialist Baraweez, and on this more conventional track he could well give a very good account of himself.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.