For once, the British weather has produced a summer we can truly thrive in, and so the scene is set for a glorious edition of the Darley July Cup at Newmarket on Saturday.
The three-day festival kicked off on Thursday with Ladies Day, while a quieter betting heat followed on ‘Feel Good Friday’; which is very easy to do with the sun shining and a glass of something from main sponsors Moet & Chandon in hand.
Business for punters picks up on Saturday with a stacked racecard that features seven renewals for punters to sink their teeth into – including the Group 1 July Cup, with starter’s orders at 14:15 GMT.
This is one of the most prestigious and revered sprint races on the calendar, and with weather conditions as they have been it may be a case of blink and you’ll miss it as the runners pound their way down Newmarket’s July course.
Ran over 6f, this is the sixth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, and a decent field will descend upon a small town in Suffolk to battle it out for the near £300,000 top prize.
No trainer or ownership team has really stamped their authority on this renewal in the modern era, and there really are few trends to follow in with three, four and five-year-old horses all winning within the past four years. Mind you, it might take a classy sort to get the job done with Harry Angel and Limato the last two names on the trophy.
There are some significant trends for punters to keep an eye on, too. Make sure your selections have won over 6f before, as 14 of the last 16 July Cup champions have, was trained in the UK and ran at Royal Ascot last time out – as 13/16 did. Ideally, as 12 of the last 16 July Cup winners have, your pick will have triumphed in a Group 1 or 2 outing before.
Armed with those stats, let’s take a look at the runners and riders for the July Cup 2018:
Blue Point (10/3)
The Charlie Appleby has stepped back to 5f recently, most notably triumphing in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, and that strong showing was an eye-opener for punters who wondered whether the four-year-old needed a longer trip.
The Irish horse has enjoyed plenty of success over 6f, most notably in the Merriebelle Stable Pavilion Stakes at Ascot where he outpaced Harry Angel to take the spoils.
The Godolphin network has won the July Cup before, and while a pair of previous runs at Newmarket have come up empty handed, you would expect Blue Point to be there or thereabouts on Saturday afternoon.
U S Navy Flag (5/1)
With Aidan O’Brien on training duties and Ryan Moore in the saddle, good things tend to follow.
Even so, some punters may need convincing about U S Navy Flag after his poor showing at Ascot last time out.
The three-year-old was well back in the St James’s Palace Stakes after starting brightly, and questions of stamina in slick conditions remain unanswered.
Stepping back in trip is an intriguing move too – O’Brien has had mixed success in ‘creating’ sprinters over the years, but it would be foolish to write off a two-time Group 1 winner at Newmarket last year.
But are we wagering on past heroics or current thought processes? The latter would suggests U S Navy Flag will be outgunned on Saturday.
Sir Michael Stoute rolls the dice with Eqtidaar, the impressive Commonwealth Cup winner who is something of a curveball here.
The three-year-old is quite green compared to his rivals here with just five runs to his name, and so it is something of a surprise that he ahs a prestigious Group 1 title to his name.
Even more surprising given his efforts at Newbury in his prior start, where he was completely outpaced in lightning conditions.
Quite a few who are ‘in the know’ have suggested that this year’s Commonwealth Cup renewal was one of the weakest in recent years, and for our money there are just too many question marks to take Eqtidaar seriously.
Sands of Mali (8/1)
Second in the Commonwealth Cup and first in the Sandy Lane in his last pair of starts, Sands of Mali won’t have to improve too much to get into the picture here.
The Fahey-Hanagan partnership won this renewal back in 2012 on Mayson, although defeats to both Eqtidaar and U S Navy Flag do dampen expectations somewhat.
But this is a horse who won’t flounder in a high pace renewal, and with a couple of questionable horses above him in the betting, Sands of Mali has enough pedigree to excite at 8/1.