The July Festival: Group 1 Highlights

Widely recognized as the home of the flat racing game, Newmarket Racecourse provides the stage for many iconic events. Kicking off with the Craven Meeting in April and running through to the Cesarewitch fixture of October, Newmarket presents a steady stream of top-class action – including the opening two Classics of the season in the 2000 and 1000 Guineas.

Two months after the Guineas Meeting, attention switches to the July Course for the much-anticipated three-day July Festival. Kicking off on Thursday, the 11th of July 2024 and running through to Saturday, the 14th, the fixture crams in seven Group Class contests, including the Group 1 double act of the Falmouth Stakes and July Cup.

With the final fields beginning to take shape, we take an early look at the two Group 1 events at what promises to be a fascinating three days at HQ.

Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes – Friday 12th of July, 3:35pm

The first of the meetings Group 1 contests sees the latest Classic generation lock horns with their elders over the 1m trip. The spoils have been shared evenly over the past ten years – five editions falling to a three-year-old and five to a four-year-old. Soviet Song was the last five-year-old to come home in front when successfully defending her title in 2005. The betting market suggests the younger runners hold the edge in 2024, but overall, this looks like a wide-open renewal.

1000 Guineas 1-2 Amongst the 3yo Entries

Of the past five three-year-olds to win the race, only two had previously lined up in the 1000 Guineas - Prosperous Voyage finished fourth before winning here in 2022, and Alice Springs bettered her third-placed Guineas effort when landing the 2016 edition.

If all the runners stand their ground, this year's Guineas form looks set to be strongly represented, with the winner, Elmaka, and runner-up, Porta Fortuna, among the entries.

Roger Varian’s Elmalka held the edge in May, but Porta Fortuna has since gained revenge – claiming gold in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, with Elmalka back in fourth. Sired by strong speed influence Caravaggio, Porta Fortuna was well suited by the less demanding Ascot track – conserving energy before unleashing a finishing kick, which the others failed to match. In contrast, the straight track of the Guineas saw Elmalka to best effect, with the daughter of Kingman coming with a relentless late run to nab Porta Fortuna in the shadow of the post. Back on a straight course, connections will hope she can repeat the trick here.

With Fallen Angel heading elsewhere, A Lilac Rolla and Opera Singer, who finished second and third at the Curragh, represent the Irish 1000 Guineas form. A Lilac Rolla appeared unsuited by the steady pace that day and may prove dangerous granted a stronger gallop. Opera Singer, meanwhile, followed up that effort with a second-place finish to Porta Fortuna at Ascot, when just lacking the closing speed of the winner. One of the most impressive juvenile fillies of 2022; she looks like a major threat to all.

Looking further down the list of three-year-old entries, Charlie Appleby’s Devoted Queen is comfortably the most intriguing challenger. Unbeaten in three starts to date, she skipped her Royal Ascot assignment but looked a horse to follow when staying on well to claim a Listed event at York on her most recent outing.

1000 Guineas 1-2 Amongst the 3yo Entries

Falmouth Number Five for John Gosden?

Successful four times in total, including twice in the past four years, John Gosden (now in partnership with son Thady) looks set to provide the pick of the older runners. First and second in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes last time out, Running Lion and Laurel are set to renew their rivalry.

As a five-year-old, Laurel has the age trend against her but should step forward from her Ascot effort, considering that was her first outing in over a year. A course and distance winner on debut and second in the 2022 Sun Chariot Stakes on the Rowley Mile Course, she seems to enjoy herself at Newmarket and shouldn’t be far away.

However, Running Lion was well on top in the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes and, as a four-year-old, is more in line with recent winners. A Listed class winner over 1m2f, she stays this trip particularly well and may prove hard to reel in if allowed to do her own thing out in front.

Of the others, Doom appears a little overpriced at around the 66/1 mark, having finished third in that Duke Of Cambridge event. She lacks the speed of a few of these rivals but is one to bear in mind should the word soft enter the going description.

My Pension Expert July Cup Stakes – Saturday 13th of July, 3:35pm

The meeting's signature event takes centre stage on the closing Saturday. Held over the 6f trip and open to runners aged three and above, speed is the name of the game in the £600,000 July Cup. 

In common with the Falmouth Stakes, the three-year-olds and older runners have claimed an equal share of the past ten editions, but the betting suggests the younger legs are most likely to claim the prize in 2024.

Inisherin vs Vandeek Round 2

Of the 23 runners remaining in the lineup, only the three-year-olds Inisherin and Vandeek can be backed at a single-figure price.

Simon & Ed Crisford’s Vandeek rocketed to the head of the juvenile sprint division following a flawless two-year-old campaign – four starts yielding four wins, including the Group 1 duo of the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes. However, he has yet to catch fire this season - only third in the Sandy Lane Stakes at Newmarket before missing his Commonwealth Cup assignment due to a setback. Reportedly back firing at home, he rates a danger to all if back to the levels of last season.

Vandeek will likely need to be at his absolute peak to lower the colours of bet365’s 2/1 favourite for the race, Inisherin. Ending 2023 with only a defeat in a Class 4 Maiden to his name, this son of Shamardal has exploded onto the scene in 2024. Having finished a respectable sixth over a trip too far in the Guineas, he bounced back with a win in the Sandy Lane Stakes over 6f before producing a sizzling display to claim Commonwealth Cup gold. In receipt of 6lb from his older rivals, he’s hard to knock at the head of the market.

With five wins to his name, Aidan O’Brien needs just one more to surpass Vincent O’Brien and Charles Morton to move out on his own as the most successful trainer in July Cup history. 

River Tiber and Military fly the Ballydoyle flag this year, with the former boasting the strongest form claims. A perfect three from three to begin his career, he then found Vandeek too good in the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes, leaving him with improvement to find here. His two starts in 2024 have produced non-staying efforts in the Irish 2000 Guineas and Jersey Stakes. This drop back to 6f ought to suit, but he will likely need the principles to underperform if he is to break his Group 1 duck.

Other three-year-olds to note include Jasour, Bucanero Fuerte, and Elite Status. Jasour goes for sprint specialist Clive Cox and produced a career-best effort when third in the Commonwealth Cup last time; Bucanero Fuerte is already a Group 1 winner, having landed the 2023 Phoenix Stakes and scored on his seasonal return in the Lacken Stakes, whilst Elite Status goes for the red hot Karl Burke operation and won the Listed Carnarvon Stakes in fine style last time.

Inisherin vs Vandeek Round 2

Best of the Older Runners: Wathnan to Strike?

No horse older than five has landed this prize since Les Arcs in 2006, suggesting Regional, Vadream, Art Power, Kinross, and Khaadem may be up against it. However, each of the quintet has something to recommend them. 

Regional finished an excellent second in the King Charles III Stakes last time, Vadream ran a cracker to finish third on ground much quicker than ideal in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes; Art Power and Kinross are Group 1 winners at the distance, and the eight-year-old Khaadem defied father time to win that Queen Elizebeth II Jubilee Stakes. Of the five, we would suggest paying particular attention to Khaadem if the ground is quick and Vadream if conditions are soft or worse on the day.

Wathnan Racing struck four times at the Royal Meeting and will have high hopes of carrying that form into the July Festival. The impressive ownership group have two runners amongst the current entries in the shape of English Oak and Sharoush, both of whom ran at Royal Ascot – Shartoush finishing eighth in the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes and English Oak winning the Buckingham Palace Stakes off a mark of 99. We rate English Oak as the more likely winner of the two, but he also holds an entry in the Bunbury Cup and may be kept to 7f and handicap company for now.

Going in the same Mrs Fitri Hay colours as Khaadem, Mitbaahy is an interesting outsider at 25/1 with LiveScoreBet. Never looking comfortable on the quick ground when behind Khaadem at Ascot, he ran well under the circumstances to go down by only 4¾l. Previously an impressive winner of the Group 2 Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh, those 25/1 odds are likely to shorten significantly if the ground is no quicker than good on the day.

Of the others, it would be remiss not to mention Swingalong and Mill Stream, who arrive in rock-solid form having finished second and third behind Khaadem at Royal Ascot.