The quirks of the racing calendar have nudged Newcastle’s Northumberland Plate into the first day of July and there cannot be a better way to begin the month’s racing. Few staying handicaps are as fiercely contested as the ‘Pitmen’s Derby’ and this year’s race is no exception to that familiar rule.
Anyone thinking of having a bet in this grueling two-mile contest needs to pay strict attention to the draw. Year after year horses drawn high race wide at Gosforth Park struggling to secure a prominent early pitch with the result that they are forced to sit and wait at the back of the field while the race unfolds up front. More often than not, the die has been cast by the time a high drawn horse is able to make its belated challenge.
Older horses too tend to rule the roost these days and the times when progressive three-year-olds were able to annex this valuable prize have long gone. The doughty Archduke Ferdinand was the last of the younger generation to win the Plate in 2001 and remarkably, there are no representatives from this age-group in this year’s renewal.
Good recent form is an obvious plus in a race of this nature and Richard Fahey’s Greenwich Meantime and Amanda Perrett’s Bulwark are two talented sorts that rise swiftly to the surface when studying the entries for this year’s race. The former is on quite a hot roll at present for his canny trainer and might well be the one they all to beat in 2006.
Over at The Curragh on July 2 there’s the weighty matter of the Irish Derby to consider though this year’s renewal is already suffering from a bad case of the absentee blues with Epsom Derby winner Sir Percy and unlucky-in-running third Hala Bek both forced to miss the race through injury and the 2006 renewal already looks a below-par affair.
Both Dylan Thomas and Dragon Dancer, the fourth and second respectively at Epsom, are set to fly the flag for the Derby form and this useful pair should come toe-to-toe with Darsi, a surprise winner of a typically open French Derby at Chantilly last month.
The performances of the French three-year-olds’ at pattern level in Britain has left a lot to be desired this season, and it would be no surprise to see them failing once again. Classic form is essential on any potential winner’s c.v and perhaps this year’s Irish Derby winner can be found within the ranks of the Epsom Classic.
The Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on July 8 is famous for its traditional clash between the older and younger generations. The latter age group receives a chunky 10lb weight-for-age allowance and in sixteen runnings of this Group 1 race since1990, the three-year-olds have managed six victories while five four-year-olds have triumphed alongside five five-year-olds. Honours, then, are even across the age groups.
The loss of Sir Percy through injury has probably sunk the three-year-old challenge below the water and it would raise few eyebrows to see an older horse come out on top. The Godolphin stable continues to stutter at the top level and for David Junior, a bitter Royal Ascot disappointment behind Ouija Board, this is a chance to atone for his recent defeat though if the latter lines-up again after her Ascot heroics he may have to settle for a supporting role once more.
On the same day as the Coral Eclipse, Haydock hosts the Lancashire Oaks which is often won by a late developing filly, a category into which Luca Cumani’s talented Princess Nada fits very snugly. She is one to watch out for when the entries are published. Punters should pay close attention to the running of the Old Newton Cup at Haydock, another race in which Cumani holds a terrific record having landed the last two renewals courtesy of Alkaased and Zeitgeist. Scan the entries for his hat-trick seeking runner who may well be the rejuvenated Soulacroix.
Newmarket’s three-day July meeting dominates the middle of the month and the opening day should see a back-to-form Soviet Song land her third Falmouth Stakes on July 12. She is sure to be a cut above the opposition while on the same card the juvenile fillies do battle in the Cherry Hinton Stakes and the Queen Mary Stakes winner Gilded may be hard to beat.
On the second day of the July meeting Hoh Mike, who was poorly ridden by Jamie Spencer when runner-up at Royal Ascot, bids to go one better in the July Stakes while the Willie Muir-trained Enforcer seeks to improve upon his Hardwicke Stakes third in the Princess of Wales’s Stakes. Watch out here for any runner from Sir Michael Stoute’s stable.
On July 14 the final day of the eponymously-titled meeting, there’s the small matter of the Bunbury Cup, a highly competitive seven furlongs handicap. James Fanshawe is poised to bid for compensation with Polar Magic, a runner-up last year to the evergreen and mercurial Mine while Ian Semple is seeking to improve upon his Royal Ascot second in similarly competitive handicap with the plucky and consistent Appalachian Trail.
Ed Dunlop’s Britannia runner-up Easy Air would be an intriguing contender too hailing from stable that has suffered a hatful of near-misses in the race in recent seasons.
The six-furlong Group 1 July Cup is the meeting’s highlight on July 14 and recent results have shown just how volatile a medium the top sprinters can be for backers with winners at 25-1, 12-1, 14-1 and 50-1. A 33-1 winner of the Golden Jubilee rubbed further salt into punters’ wounds at Royal Ascot and in my view betting on so-called top drawer sprinters is something of a mug’s game.
Inevitably a good run in the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot as well as a bold showing in the King’s Stand Stakes from that same meeting is often a pointer to July Cup success but fathoming just which horses are likely to run well from those races is a difficult business. Perhaps Moss Vale can shine providing he’s a sharper starter than his slow-coach self at Royal Ascot.
York’s John Smith’s Cup On July 15 is one of the best ten-furlong handicaps of the whole season and remains ultra-competitive. Once again the three-year-old generation has found it difficult to scrape a place in the line-up and older horses are preferred. Trainer John Gosden’s three placed efforts from as many runners in recent seasons bodes well for the chances of his stable’s Wild Savannah, a good second at Royal Ascot on his latest start.
Newbury stages the Weatherbys Super Sprint on July 22 and the unmistakable message for punters is to pay close attention to any horse saddled by Richard Hannon, who has won this two-year-old contest on no less than six occasions with three of his winners coming in the last four seasons.
July’s racing comes to a close with the fabulous King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, Britain’s premier all-aged middle-distance event. This year’s renewal had looked like a shoo-in for Hurricane Run but his defeat in France last time opens the race up and Japanese challenger, the late-developing, Heart’s Cry, Sir Michael Stoute’s progressive Mountain High and Godolphin hotpot Electrocutionist, seem sure to have a big say in the race’s outcome. As for the three-yea