Darley July Cup | Group 1 | 6f | 3yo+ | ITV/RUK
It is crunch time for Blue Point who is out to prove he is as strong a sprinter at six furlongs as he is at the minimum trip in his pursuit of a rare big-race double.
Blue Point, photo Liesl King
Not since Never So Bold in 1985 has a horse won the King's Stand Stakes and the Darley July Cup in the same season and connections' confidence is high Blue Point can do the double on the back of his Royal Ascot defeat of Battaash.
The four-year-old has won five times over six furlongs and broke the track record at Ascot when beating Harry Angel in the Pavilion Stakes last May, but he has been beaten on the four occasions he has tackled the distance at Group 1 level.
Trainer Charlie Appleby said: "It was a well-deserved win at Ascot and the step back up to six doesn't worry me at all. He's held the track record at Ascot in the past over five and six. I can't really give a negative going into this race.
"I feel the track will suit him, he's good on quick ground and there's every reason to think we'll see the Blue Point that won at Ascot."
Blue Point has so far shown his best at Ascot, where he has won three out of four.
Appleby added: "He's not done it yet at Group 1 level but watching him in the Al Quoz Sprint against Ertijaal I couldn't wait to step him back to six as he was doing his best work towards the end. His ideal trip is a stiff five or six furlongs."
Pros Left sprint champions Battaash and Lady Aurelia in wake to win quality King's Stand
Cons Ascot form, 1311; Group 1 form at 6f, 2349
Navy Flag leads O'Brien flotilla
US Navy Flag spearheads a five-strong team for Ballydoyle as Aidan O'Brien bids for a fourth win in the Group 1 event.
O'Brien last won the race with Starspangledbanner in 2010 and his other winners – Stravinsky in 1999 and Mozart in 2001 – both won the event after being dropped in trip like US Navy Flag, who reverts to six furlongs for the first time since landing the Middle Park Stakes in September.
The Irish 2,000 Guineas runner-up beat only one home in the St James's Palace Stakes and O'Brien believes the drop back in distance should suit the dual Group 1 winner in a race jockey Ryan Moore has yet to win.
O'Brien said: "US Navy Flag showed he was a very fast horse last season. We tried him over a mile but decided that going back to sprint distances would suit him."
Sioux Nation failed to get into serious contention in the Commonwealth Cup but O'Brien said: "We think he's progressed since Royal Ascot, where things didn't work out for him."
Fleet Review, runner-up in the Middle Park, and Intelligence Cross were separated by only a nose in a Listed event over today's trip at the Curragh on Irish Derby weekend, while Spirit Of Valor finished eight in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes last month.
O'Brien said: "Spirit Of Valor showed up well for a long way at Ascot and we think he has progressed since. Intelligence Cross, who was fifth in the race a year ago, and Fleet Review are two solid horses and came out of their Curragh race well."
US Navy Flag
Pros Big chance this return to sprinting will suit last year's Middle Park winner after coming up short over a mile
Cons His efforts over a mile might have taken the edge off him
Eqtidaar bids to keep the three-year-old generation in the driving seat by becoming the third July Cup winner to emerge from the Commonwealth Cup in four years.
Ascot's newest Group 1 has had an instant impact on the standard of the sprinting division and in this race has delivered wins for Muhaarar and Harry Angel and a third place for Quiet Reflection.
Eqtidaar and Sands Of Mali, first and second in the royal meeting's three-year-old sprint, represent the form this time round and try to benefit from a 6lb weight-for-age allowance.
Eqtidaar's trainer Sir Michael Stoute claimed the last of his three July Cup wins in 1987 with Ajdal. Owner Hamdan Al Maktoum claimed his third Cup with Muhaarar and, with Battaash racing in his colours, is enjoying a purple patch with sprinters.
The owner's racing manager Angus Gold said: "The one thing his rider Jim Crowley said was that in his opinion the horse would improve and might well get faster with racing."
Pros Commonwealth Cup has produced two of the last three July Cup winners
Cons Benefited from racing in the centre group at Ascot and was being closed down by the more disadvantaged Sands Of Mali at the line
Time of Sands?
Sands Of Mali has only half a length to find on Eqtidaar and could have been an unlucky loser at Ascot, where the field split into two groups and the horse had too much to do to make up the ground lost to Eqtidaar.
Trainer Richard Fahey said: "Eqtidaar is a shorter price than us and he beat us at Ascot, so I suppose he's entitled to be. But we didn't have the best of the draw that day and I'm looking forward to having another go against him."
A different field
Dreamfield missed all of 2017 but is pitched straight from handicap company into a Group 1 after failing by a neck to make all in the Wokingham Handicap, for which he was sent off the 2-1 favourite.
Trainer John Gosden said: "He was a silly price in the Wokingham but was drawn away from the pace so did well to finish where he did. It's a big jump up to a Group 1 but it's a home fixture and he had a spin on the track before we took him to Royal Ascot. The trip and ground should be fine for him."
Australian sprinters have proved formidable in Europe but Redkirk Warrior was not among them when the winner of the Newmarket Handicap and Lightning Stakes ran way below expectations at Royal Ascot to finish tenth of 12 behind Merchant Navy, whom he had beaten on home soil.
Connections have flown in regular rider Regan Bayliss for this assignment and co-trainer Ben Hayes said: "He's come back from a poor run before. He's been here a lot longer so had more time to settle in. He is a lot brighter. I am expecting him to turn his form around and run a lot better."
Back to basics
For Limato, winner of the race in 2016, the July Cup will be his first run at six furlongs since he finished second 12 months ago. He has been running over a mile this year but that experiment has now been abandoned.
Trainer Henry Candy said: "He was much too keen in the Lockinge and Queen Anne and nothing went right. He showed us very definitely that he wanted to be a sprinter again so we'll see how he gets on. He seems to go well on both tracks at Newmarket. He seems to be in very good form."
Brando is another Group 1 winner available at double-figures odds but will be fresher than most having avoided Royal Ascot.
Trainer Kevin Ryan said: “I've been training Brando especially for this and he's in great form. I don’t know what it is about Newmarket but he seems to love the place, he must like running downhill. He wasn’t beaten very far in this race last year.”
There is every chance Invincible Army could produce a big run. He beat Eqtidaar in the Pavilion Stakes, then lost out by a nose to Sands Of Mali in the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock, but did not run to the same level when ninth in the Commonwealth Cup and his mulish behaviour at the stalls did not help his cause.
A lot to like
None of the first six finishers from the Diamond Jubilee Stakes take their chance so the form is represented by seventh home Sir Dancealot, who has since landed the 7f Group 3 Criterion Stakes at the track.
His rider Gerald Mosse said: "When he won with me last time he showed he had the potential to go back up to this company. I believe he is going to run very well."