As renewals go, Saturday’s Darley July Cup looks one of the strongest in living memory.
It’s some years since we’ve seen so many fast improving sorts take each other on, in such a prestigious event. The first five from Royal Ascot’s King’s Stand Stakes all re-oppose. Three of the first five from the Diamond Jubilee are here. And two of the first three from the Commonwealth Cup are also in attendance. Add to these, a Commonwealth Cup runner-up from 12 months ago; the third, fourth and fifth from this event in 2015; a sprinter who arrives with seven career victories from eight starts, and a colt that was odds on to take the 2000 Guineas just over two months back. That truly is a ‘Peach’ of a line-up. A Stonker of a renewal.
What also sets this race apart from so many others over the years, is the average age of the contestants. The event is dominated by three, four and five-year-olds, with just two of the 18 starters from the senior ranks. This is a field of top-class sprinters on the upgrade.
Muhaarar took the event 12 months ago, and he was undoubtedly an outstanding talent. But he was chased home by a seven-year-old, with an eight-year-old back in fourth. The 2014 renewal also had a young contingent, though only 13 went to post. A huge field of 18 may well turn out tomorrow. When Lethal Force took the race in 2013, he faced a quality field, though there were only 10 other rivals to contend with. This is a Darley July Cup with an unrivalled depth of quality.
The make-up of Saturday’s field also negates many of the trends. Four-year-olds have the best recent record, followed by three and then five-year-olds. So that narrows it down to 16 possible winners! Royal Ascot form has often proved key, with winners of the Diamond Jubilee following up twice in the last three years. Muhaarar also took last year’s race having won the Commonwealth at Ascot. However, so many of these performed exceptionally well at Royal Ascot, that few could be filed in the ‘little or no chance’ pile.
Fancied horses have a good record in the race, with four favourites obliging from the last 10 renewals. In that time only two won at odds bigger than 10s. Richard Fahey was responsible for one of those, when Mayson took the race in 2012 at odds of 20/1. The trainer looks for a repeat success tomorrow, and arrives double-handed, with arguably his best chance resting with the prolific Don’t Touch. The four-year-old has seven wins from eight career starts, and though this is by far his toughest test to date, he’s a fast improving gelding.
Richard Fahey sounded pretty confident when speaking earlier in the week, saying: “I have been very pleased with Don’t Touch since his Salisbury win and we are going up another gear with him on Saturday. I think that the big field, fast ground and uphill finish will be tailor-made for him. Getting beat in the Greenlands Stakes threw a spanner in the works but his official rating is within seven pounds of the top rated horse in the race so he must have a chance.”
Fahey also spoke of Eastern Impact; third in the race last year, saying: “We have intentionally kept him fresh for this race as he likes Newmarket and seems to be seven pounds better there than anywhere else. He may not have run for a couple of months but he has not had any issues and he certainly won’t blow up. The Darley July Cup is a race that everybody wants to win and it would be great to win it again.”
Charlie Hills also sends two into battle, with Magical Memory towards the head of the market. He was given plenty to do in the Diamond Jubilee at Ascot, and could only finish fourth. Hills captured this event 12 months ago, and in his Weekender column said: “I actually think I’m slightly more confident than I was with Muhaarar. I think he’s (Magical Memory) got a big chance, as much as any horse in the field.”
Cotai Glory is his number two, and looks to have a fair bit to find on all known form. Having said that, he did run his best race last time at Royal Ascot, when only just failing to overhaul Profitable in the King’s Stand. He’s only tried the trip once before, and that has to be a slight concern.
The same can be said for his Royal Ascot nemesis, Profitable. Clive Cox has decided to have a crack with this year’s top five-furlong sprinter. His only previous run over this trip came last year at Royal Ascot when he finished fifth to Muhaarar in the Commonwealth Cup. He looked a non-stayer that day, having travelled powerfully through the race. He’s sure to be a stronger horse this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll see out the trip.
Cox said earlier in the week: “Winning the Darley July Cup three years ago with Lethal Force was a very memorable occasion and it fills me with excitement to be going back there on Saturday with a horse in tip-top order like Profitable. He is a really wonderful horse to deal with as he has the most amazing temperament. There are no two ways about it, the sixth furlong is an unknown and is something that we are a little uncertain about.”
Limato was ahead of Profitable at Ascot 12 months ago, and having finished fourth to Belardo in the Lockinge, quickly reverts back to sprinting. The ground looks set to be perfect for him, and he’ll undoubtedly be flying at the finish. His trainer Henry Candy has arguably the most powerful hand going into Saturday, as he also runs race favourite Twilight Son. The Diamond Jubilee hero is a dual Group 1 winner, and looks sure to go close. The trip looks ideal, and a fast run race coupled with the stiff Newmarket finish, should play to his strengths.
Fleeting Spirit was the last filly to win the July Cup. Karl Burke’s Quiet Reflection will hope to follow suit, and has looked a class act so far this season. She took the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, on ground that would have been plenty soft enough. Burke did send out a cautious note last week, that if the ground was too firm at Newmarket, he would not run the filly. If she does take her chance, she looks sure to run a huge race.
Two at bigger odds that look capable of going close are Suedois and Danzeno. Both were behind Magical Memory at York in May, though ahead of Twilight Son. The latter reversed form with Suedois at Ascot, whilst Danzeno chased home Don’t Touch at Salisbury last time. He was charging home that day, and Michael Appleby’s fella finished fifth in this last year. He could go close again.
The outsider of the field is the Peter Chapple-Hyam trained Arod. He may well run at Ascot in the Summer Mile, but if he does turn up here, don’t be surprised to see him run a cracker. This fella came close to beating Solow last July with Night Of Thunder and Belardo half a dozen lengths further back. Fast ground is ideal, and he’s by no means slow. He’s currently a 50/1 shot, but if a confirmed runner I’d be surprised if he doesn’t go off a fair bit shorter.
Finally, a mention for two colts representing mighty connections. Jungle Cat runs for Godolphin, and though his form looks shy of what is needed to win this, he has run well in defeat behind Profitable on his last two outings. He’s not without a chance, though that could be said of virtually every horse in the race.
Air Force Blue is without doubt the joker in the pack. Failed milers stepping back in trip have a decent record in the race. As a juvenile he defeated Washington DC by two lengths in a six-furlong contest at the Curragh. That horse finished a length and a half behind Quiet Reflection last time out. Nevertheless, his two runs as a three-year-old have been truly awful. He’s had a break since the Irish Guineas, and his trainer is adamant that better ground will suit. He’s on a huge recovery mission, but it would come as no surprise if he was to run a cracker.
After all is said and done, I’ll be siding with Twilight Son. Candy’s Diamond Jubilee winner ‘toughed it out’ at Royal Ascot, and could well do the same again. Arod is interesting, and if he turns up here, and the rain stays away, I’ll be having a few quid on him. If he heads to Ascot, the ultra-consistent Danzeno becomes my each-way punt.