July Highlights

Saturday 1 July

The Curragh (1st - 2nd)

What better way could there be to warm up for a red-hot month of racing in Britain and Ireland than with a Classic thriller in Ireland as The Curragh plays host to a top-class fixture in which the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby is the feature event. The Aidan O’Brien’s strangehold on the race in recent years has been astonishing. Desert King got the ball rolling in 1997 and the Ballydoyle handler has won a staggering 10 of the last 15 runnings, including seven in a row between 2006 and 2012.

However, the sequence has come to an end in the last couple of years, with Jack Hobbs an impressive winner for John Gosden in 2015, three weeks after finishing second at Epsom. Then last year the Dermot Weld-trained Harzand became the most recent of the 18 horses to win both races when completing the double under Pat Smullen.

Could it be 19 this year? O’Brien plans to saddle Epsom hero Wings Of Eagles in a bid to wrap up a Classic brace, although some of those to have finished in behind may fancy their chances of revenge, most notably third-home Cracksman, although Andre Fabre is also teeing up a French raider in the shape of Waldgeist.

The highlight of Sunday’s card sees the s Pretty Polly Stakes, a Group One over 2000m for fillies and mares, take centre stage. British raiders have enjoyed plenty of success since the turn of the century with the likes of Chorist, Dar Re Mi and Izzi Top emerging victorious, but last year Aidan O’Brien struck with 1000 Guineas and Oaks winner Minding, one of her amazing six Group One wins registered in 2016.

The Comer Group Curragh Cup (Group Two, 2800m), the Finlay Volvo International Stakes (Group Three, 2000m) and the Grangecon Stud Stakes (Group Three, 1200m) are the supporting Pattern races on Sunday’s card.

 

Saturday 1 July

Newcastle

One of the richest staying handicaps in the world takes place at Newcastle in the shape of the John Smith’s Northumberland Plate. First established in 1833, the ‘Pitmen’s Derby’, run over 3200m, is the centrepiece of a three-day fixture that draws massive crowds to Gosforth Park.

The race was staged for the first time in 2016 on the track’s new all-weather Tapeta surface, installed earlier this year after the replacement of the old turf course. That has inevitably changed the complexion of the contest given that it tends to prove less easy to come from too far off the pace on All-weather tracks. However, nobody appeared to have told Godolphin’s Antiquarium or visiting Kiwi jockey James McDonald as they came from well back to nail favourite Seamour in the race 12 months ago.

Born a stone’s throw from the track, Seamour’s trainer Brian Ellison is out to gain revenge in this year’s renewal on his way to a planned tilt at the Melbourne Cup in Australia later in 2017 – victory in this contest.

 

Saturday 8 July

Sandown

Having narrowly failed to hold off the thrust of stablemate Flight Of Eagles in the Investec Derby, Cliffs of Moher is set to be the first of this year’s top-drawer middle-distance performers to be tested against an older generation when headlining the likely line-up for Sandown’s showpiece event of the Flat season, the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (2000m).

The Group One prize provides a first clash between the Classic crop and their older rivals and in recent seasons, it has tended to be the elders that have held sway. However Derby winner Golden Horn broke that sequence 12 months ago with a battling success over The Grey Gatsby and last year it was again the three-year-olds who came out on top as Godolphin’s Hawkbill beat the Aidan O’Brien-trained The Gurkha in soft ground.

There are good supporting races on the card too, with the Coral Charge, a Group Three contest over 1000m and the Coral Challenge, a valuable handicap over 1600m, both significant races in their own right.

At Haydock the fillies and mares get a chance to shine in the Group Two Bet365 Lancashire Oaks (2400m). Take note if John Gosden sends anything to this race - he has won it six times, including three of the last six renewals. His Newmarket neighbour Roger Varian is eyeing the contest for Ajman Princess, third on unsuitably soft ground at the track last time out.

The Bet365 Old Newton Cup, a valuable handicap over the same trip, is the supporting race on the card and there is bumper prize money on offer for a handicap that was first contested back in 1899.

 

Thursday 13 July

Newmarket (13th-15th)

A change of pace at Newmarket, but no let-up in quality, as the picturesque July course holds its flagship fixture of the year with the three-day July Festival meeting featuring a mix of Group races, top-class handicaps and ever-informative maidens.

The feature event on the opening day of the meeting is the Group Two Arqana July Stakes, a 1200m event for two-year-old colts and geldings. For the last couple of years, the contest has been won by a couple of out-and-out speedy Al Shaqab-owned juveniles in Shalaa and Mehmas, both of whom are already enjoying new careers as stallions.

The Princess of Wales’s Arqana Racing Club Stakes, a Group Two over 2400m, is another high-class event and has been won from the front for the last two years by smart stayer Big Orange.

Friday sees the fillies and mares take centre stage with the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes firmly established as a top Group One event. Could one of Aidan O’Brien’s team of smart fillies bid to follow in the hoofprints of last year’s winner Alice Springs?

Earlier in the afternoon, classy two-year-old fillies line up for the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes (Group Two, 1200m).

The feature contest of the whole week, the Darley July Cup, takes place on the final day of the meeting on Saturday. The £500,000 1200m Group One event is one of the most significant races of its type in Europe and has a roll of honour that features almost every big name in modern-day sprinting.

The race offers a natural stepping stone for many of the top sprinters who will have been in action at Royal Ascot, even for those three-year-olds who have taken in the Commonwealth Cup. Could the likes of Aidan O’Brien’s Caravaggio or Godolphin hotpot Blue Point be taking on experienced rivals in this contest?

The Bet365 Bunbury Cup, an historic 1400m handicap, provides the main supporting action on the afternoon, along with the Group Two Superlative Stakes over the same trip for juvenile colts.

 

Saturday 15 July

York

The highlight of a two-day fixture at York is the John Smith’s Cup, a handicap run over 2100m. First staged in 1960, the raceday represents the longest running commercial sponsorship in Flat racing.

Newmarket raiders have fared well in recent times, the cash repeatedly going back to Headquarters. But Devon-based Rod Millman caused a surprise when saddling Master Carpenter to take the spoils in 2015 and the gelding is on track to try and win the race again having confirmed his liking for the track with a win at the Dante meeting in May.

On a packed racing programme, the main event at Ascot is the £130,000 Group Two Fred Cowley MBE Memorial Summer Mile.

 

Saturday 15 July

The Curragh (15th-16th)

A two-day meeting at The Curragh plays features the Darley Irish Oaks (2400m). Surprisingly for an Irish Classic, Aidan O’Brien hasn’t been totally dominant in recent times, for all that he has won five of the last 11 renewals. Seventh Heaven came out on top of four runners for the yard in the race 12 months ago.

However, the Ballydoyle battalions will struggle to land the spoils again this year if dominant Investec Oaks winner Enable lines up after her emphatic Epsom success. Her trainer John Gosden nominated a trip to The Curragh soon after her latest victory.

Other notable races at the fixture include the Jebel Ali Silver Jubilee Anglesey Stakes (1300m, Group Three, two-year-olds), the 1400m Group Two Friarstown Stud Minstrel Stakes and the Kilboy Estate Stakes (Group Two, 1800m, fillies and mares).

 

Saturday 29 July

Ascot

The month begins with a thrilling middle-distance battle of the generations and ends with another in the shape of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Backed by QIPCO, the contest carries in excess of £1million of prize money and has produced some of the sport’s most iconic moments in history, including victories for Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and Dahlia at the start of the 1970s.

Dahlia attempted to win the race for a third time in 1975 but had to be satisfied with third place in what was described by many as the race of the century. Grundy, who had landed the Derby and Irish Derby earlier in the season, and Bustino, the previous year's St Leger hero, fought out a tremendous battle up the home straight with the Peter Walwyn-trained Grundy just managing to prevail by half a length.

In 1981, Shergar followed in the footsteps of Nijinsky, Grundy, The Minstrel and Troy by completing the treble of the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and King George when the facile four-length winner. Will Epsom hero Wings Of Eagles be in a position to try and repeat that achievement this year?

The Group Three Princess Margaret Stakes, a 1200m race for two-year-old fillies, is the main supporting event at the meeting.

 

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