The big race of the Newmarket July Festival, the Group 1 Darley July Cup will be run on July 14, the third and final day of the standout mid-summer fixture.
Inaugurated in 1876, this is one of Europe’s top sprints and attracts the pick of British, Irish and European speedsters, as well as often being the target of top sprinters from much further afield. The roll of honour for this great race confirms its reputation as being one of the toughest to win with some of the great names of the sport having landed the spoils. In the last two decades the likes of Stravinsky, Mozart, Oasis Dream, Starspangledbanner, Dream Ahead, Slade Power, and most recently Harry Angel have all galloped to glory down the straight but undulating final six furlongs of the July course.
Can Angel Bounce Back From Ascot Flop?
Clive Cox’s Harry Angel, owned by Godolphin, had been the clear ante-post favourite with most firms to defend his crown until his disastrous run at Royal Ascot recently in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, for which he started 5/2 favourite. It all went wrong right at the start when he got his leg trapped as the stalls opened and suffered a puncture wound. He was slowly away under Adam Kirby, and though he tried hard to reduce the deficit he was never going to be able to give away so much ground in a Group 1 and recover. Kirby wisely decided to ease him from well over a furlong out when it was clear his chance had well and truly gone.
The son of Dark Angel had previously confirmed himself as one of the very best sprinters in Europe when making a winning return in the Group 2 Duke of York Stakes in May and he remains a major contender for the July Cup if he has recovered from the injury sustained at Ascot. The bookies have eased hm out though and he is now a top priced 13/2 shot with Betfair. If he arrives at HQ fit and well, those odds could look generous given the way he despatched Limato, Caravaggio and co. in the race 12 months ago.
Blue Gets Green Light For July Cup Bid
The new market leader is another Godolphin-owned sprint star Blue Point, who produced one of the shocks of the meeting when comfortably accounting for the flying Battaash in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot over the minimum trip of five furlongs. There was absolutely no fluke about the victory of Charlie Appleby’s colt as Blue Point has been a fine sprinter for some time.
He beat Harry Angel a year earlier at Newmarket in the Group 3 Pavillion Stakes, then was a very good third to Caravaggio in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot 2017. The heavy ground was all against him in last September’s Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock won by Harry Angel in which he still ran respectably to be fourth, and he bounced back on better ground to beat Projection in the Group 3 Bengough Stakes at Ascot on his final start last campaign. As long as there is no give in the ground the current 9/2 favourite with Sportingbet should put up another bold show.
Navy Looking To Sail In Again
The principal beneficiary of the Harry Angel Diamond Jubilee Stakes drama was Aidan O’Brien’s Merchant Navy who went on to get the better of a desperately close photo-finish with France’s City Lights. This Australian sprint star has now won seven of his 10 races having proved smart Down Under where he is closely matched with another Aussie speedster Redkirk Warrior, who ran poorly at Ascot but may well be given a chance to redeem himself at Newmarket.
O’Brien was gushing in his praise of Merchant Navy even before he made his European debut at the Curragh in May when reportedly short of full race fitness having been given time to settle down at Ballydoyle. He beat stable companion Spirit of Valor in good style in the Group 2 Greenlands Stakes before showing a great attitude to win at Ascot. But how solid is the Ascot form with Harry Angel and Redkirk Warrior having run poorly (the latter reportedly is a poor traveller so it’s strange they sent him over from Australia), and defending champion The Tin Man failing to get a run when he needed it?
The answer is that it is still very good form, but possibly not outstanding, and things could be very different at HQ. Nevertheless, Merchant Navy (6/1 with BetStars), is still a real contender and is very much respected as he seems to be getting better all the time.
O’Brien also has last year’s leading juvenile US Navy Flag entered for the July Cup, as well as the enigmatic Sioux Nation. US Navy Flag has had a frustrating three-year-old campaign. Winner of both the six furlong Group 1 Middle Park and seven furlong Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes last year, he has adopted his usual front-running role but has gone off very hard in his last three races over a mile; fading inside the distance to finish fifth in the French 2000 Guineas; getting caught by Romanised when runner-up in the Irish 2000 Guineas (see below); then doing far too much when leading at a crazy pace in the St James’s Palace Stakes before dropping right away to finish ninth of the 10 runners behind Without Parole.
All the visual evidence suggests that, while he still has very good form at a mile, US Navy Flag is just itching to drop back to sprinting and he could prove quite a handful for his rivals. The 8/1 offered by Betfair looks a fair price.
Sioux Nation (25/1 with Bet365) is talked of as one of the fastest horses they’ve had at Ballydoyle for some time. He won last year’s Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh, and impressed this term when landing a Naas Group 3 in some style in May. Sent off 11/4 favourite for the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup recently, he didn’t break too well but soon recovered, yet was beaten a long way from home, fading to finish 18th of the 22 runners behind Eqitidaar.
That was a poor effort and no explanation has publicly been forthcoming. The Scat Daddy colt may just have had a bad day at the office but he needs to do better and will have to work hard to redeem himself. The jury is out on him for the time being.
Mali Can Gain Revenge On Eqtidaar
Sir Michael Stoute’s Eqtidaar (10/1 with Sky Bet) was a surprise winner of the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup in which he was always prominent and ran on well to beat Sands of Mali by half a length, despite hanging left near the finish. He is clearly in fine form and has improved a lot this term but is no certainty to confirm placings with runner-up with genuinely fast ground being a potential concern.
SANDS OF MALI, trained by Richard Fahey, winner of last season’s Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at York and this term’s Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock, lost his place at halfway in the Commonwealth Cup before rallying powerfully to comfortably beat those in his group on the stands side, but he couldn’t get to Eqtuiddar who made the best of his way home down the centre. The 14/1 offered by BetVictor looks a tempting each-way price for a horse with loads of ability and a really good attitude. He is fancied to take another step forward and is reportedly the apple of his trainer’s eye.
David Simcock’s Raid is an outsider worth a second glance being completely unexposed at this trip after just three career starts. He won a six furlong Doncaster maiden on his only start at two, then ran a fine race on his three-year-old return finishing a close fourth to James Garfield in the seven furlong Group 3 Greenham Stakes, appearing to blow up close home on his first start for over five months. He stepped up to a mile for the Qipco 2000 Guineas won by Saxon Warrior, and looked as though he might get involved when making good ground to chase the leaders coming out of the dip, only to be hampered before weakening. He was only beaten just over five lengths.
It’s a huge ask for such an inexperienced horse to take on some of the world’s best sprinters dropping back to six furlongs, but the Qatar Racing-owned colt is clearly very well thought of by the man who sent out Dream Ahead to land this prize under Hayley Turner back in 2011, and a speculatively each-way interest at 40/1 with Betfred at this stage might not be a bad move.
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.