July blitz for Starspangled O'Brien

Starspangledbanner followed up his Royal Ascot win with a gritty display in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket today.

Aidan O'Brien's speedball slightly missed the kick and was soon chased along behind fellow Ascot hero Equiano.

Perhaps crucially, Johnny Murtagh steered the 2-1 favourite over to the far rail while Michael Hills raced up the middle of the track on Equiano.

The former Australian sprinter looked beaten a furlong out as 66-1 chance Alverta threatened with Fleeting Spirit and Kingsgate Native just behind.

But Starspangledbanner found plenty for pressure to foil the gallant Equiano by a neck with Alverta back in third.

O'Brien said: "He's very tough, he's a serious horse.

"Johnny made the decision to go over to the far rail and it paid off.

"He's got some courage and great pace. Very few horses have that much courage when they are so fast.

"It was great that the two Ascot winners were first and second, it's great when they come together like that."

Murtagh added: "Not many horses win this after winning at Ascot, but he's not just got class, he's got plenty of guts and he's hardy.

"I thought the rail would help my horse, I had to make my own mind up and it helped win the race.

"Stamina helped us win it, some Australian horses don't go up the hill but this lad does."

Barry Hills said of Equiano: "He ran a marvellous race, probably a career-best and I think he was just beaten by a slightly better horse.

"He certainly gets six furlongs, but I think we'll go to York now for the Nunthorpe."

Trainer Paul Messara said of Alverta: "She travelled over pretty rough before Royal Ascot and lost a lot of weight and it took a while to get her back.

"It was a great run, I'm very pleased and she'll probably have one more in the Prix Maurice de Gheest and then that will be it."

Connections now face a decision on whether the winner goes to stud or stays in training.

O'Brien explained: "We have to decide by midnight if he is going to go to Australia for the covering season.

"John (Magnier), Michael (Tabor) and all the lads (at Coolmore) will debate hard over the next few hours and we will only know after that if he is going to go into quarantine.

"I'll give my penny's worth and as you all know I'd love to see him stay here and keep on racing."

However, there was bad news to emanate from the stewards' room for Murtagh, who was handed a six-day ban for careless riding related to his manoeuvre towards the rail on leaving the stalls.

The dates of suspension are July 23 to 28 inclusive, which would mean the rider misses the King George meeting at Ascot as well as the first two days of Glorious Goodwood.

Murtagh's possible King George rides include Irish Derby winner Cape Blanco, who could clash with Epsom hero Workforce in the midsummer showpiece.

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