There’s been plenty of evidence from the first two days of Newmarket’s July meeting that those horses that raced prominently at Royal Ascot are struggling to reproduce their form.
That may sound like an ‘in’ to today’s racing but the featured July Cup stands out as an exception as every one of the 14 runners raced at Ascot and most got competitive at some stage.
The Golden Jubilee Stakes won by Starspangledbanner was almost certainly the best sprint ever run in these isles and 10 of those in behind the winner re-oppose this afternoon. The performance produced by the Aidan O’Brien trained winner was simply stunning as he flashed from the gates and made every post a winning one.
Pre and post-race, his trainer spoke in deferential tone about the horse that can run the nine-second furlong and it was pure speed that gained the day for the ex-Australian sprinter. He’s still the one to beat but the value has long since been mopped up and he must be opposable at odds of just 13/8.
Society Rock ran him closest when coming from off the pace to be beaten a length and three quarters at Ascot but there was a distinct sense that he was flattered by a fine ride. There’s plenty of doubt that he’ll be able to get as close again and others make more appeal.
The back to form Equiano had some of today’s rivals behind when a thoroughly convincing winner of the King’s Stand Stakes. Barry Hills’ horse had time to genuflect on leaving stalls and still won with a degree of comfort. He was up with the pace for much of this race last year before fading back into eighth race. He’s better suited to the minimum trip and should run well without winning.
Australian sprinter Nicconi didn’t enjoy the best of runs when staying on into fourth place behind Equiano at Newmarket but, even allowing for the extra furlong bringing out some improvement, he must improve a little more.
Showcasing was the disappointment of the Golden Jubilee and what form he’ll turn up in today is hard to assess. Marchand D’Or won this race in 2008, when Kingsgate Native was behind. Both still ply their trade at this level but neither is entirely straight-forward these days and, consequently, passed over.
American challenger Kinsale King is a brilliant sprinter in his native country and a winner of the Golden Shaheen at Meydan. He was having his first experience on turf when third behind the favourite in the Golden Jubilee and, as that was just the ninth race of his career, he has plenty of scope for improvement. The stiffer test of today’s race may not play into his hands but he should go well without actually doing enough to reverse Ascot form with Starspangledbanner.
If there’s to be a massive upset in the race it could well be French raider Varenar. He is interesting insofar as he suffered early interference at Ascot and, having been raced back into contention quickly, found no extra in the dying yards. He can improve and any bit of rain might play into his hooves. Ridden with more restraint, he could run into the frame at odds touching 40-1.
The last interesting runner is the Jeremy Noseda trained Fleeting Spirit, who was a brilliant winner of this race last year. A couple of swerves inside the closing stages weren’t enough to throw away a winning lead that day and she showed her well-being when leading home the far side group in the Golden Jubilee.
Fourth that day, there’ll be no excuses in terms of the draw this afternoon. Though her trainer admits she’s become harder to train as she’s got older, she clearly retains all of her ability and the manner in which she won last year’s race was scintillating. She chased the pace before employing a devastating turn of pace and, if similar tactics are employed this afternoon, she will be very hard to contain. At 4-1, she represents the value to upset the Irish favourite, with Varenar worth a small each-way saver.
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