What to take from a fascinating July Cup
Last Saturday’s Darley July Cup had all the makings of a classic on paper. While it didn’t deliver the thrilling finishes that the Commonwealth Cup and Diamond Jubilee Stakes had produced at Royal Ascot, the main protagonists from those two races combined for what was an intriguing and informative contest on the July Course.
As well as it being the first time that these top-class three-year-old sprinters had met their elders this season, the other big variable change from Royal Ascot was the course and distance. It is underappreciated just how much greater a test of speed the six furlongs of the July Course is compared to that trip at Ascot, with standard times suggesting that Newmarket is approximately 12 lengths faster.
The connections of HARRY ANGEL would have been very hopeful that the greater test of speed would play to the strengths of their representative and while he duly went on and won in great style, there were other significant factors at play that contributed to this victory other than the change of battlefield.
In the Commonwealth Cup, Harry Angel’s prospects had been diminished by him racing freely as he set a blistering pace from the front. While some had suggested that the forceful ride given to Intelligence Cross had played a role in lighting up Harry Angel on that occasion, I would suggest that Adam Kirby played an even bigger role with what was an aggressive response to that pressure.
Clearly all the wiser from that experience, Kirby was not nearly as aggressive on Saturday. Having to once again contend with Intelligence Cross, Harry Angel again raced quite aggressively, but crucially Kirby applied much more restraint and his mount proved to be tractable enough to race at a much more sensible pace in the first half of the contest. The energy he saved in doing so, coupled with the positional advantage he gained by being close to what was a relatively steady pace in the first half of the race, allowed him to produce a searing finishing effort that brought him home 1¼ lengths in front of his nearest pursuer.
While this was Harry Angel’s first success at the highest level, his last three performances have been out of the very top drawer. While it remains surprising that he wasn’t entered in the Nunthorpe Stakes, the Haydock Sprint Cup is his target and he is clearly the one to beat in that. With the Godolphin team suddenly looking flush with new stallion prospects, there must be a chance that Harry Angel will be kept in training as a four-year-old and that would be wonderful news for the sprinting division.
Of course, plenty of the post-race analysis focused on the run of Caravaggio, with the son of Scat Daddy losing his unbeaten record by finishing a never-nearer fourth.
Given the manner in which he had briefly been caught flat-footed before powering home to win the strongly-run Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, there was a concern that the faster six furlongs of the July Course might not suit him as well. The fact that this was also his first time to race on an undulating track was also a potential issue for him.
As it transpired, the undulations didn’t seem to trouble him, but the faster course and distance coupled with what was an unexpectedly steady early pace simply put too much emphasis on finishing speed for a horse that found himself relatively poorly positioned in rear after losing ground out of the stalls. As had been the case at Royal Ascot, he came off the bridle before his main rivals and while he finished off his race well, the early pace just hadn’t been strong enough to soften up Harry Angel for him as had been the case at the Commonwealth Cup.
While horse racing and indeed the wider sporting world tends to overvalue an unbeaten record, for me Caravaggio didn’t lose much in defeat. The run went a long way to confirming what had been hinted at Royal Ascot, which is that Caravaggio is ready for a step up in trip. While the Prix Maurice de Gheest and Prix de la Foret have been mentioned, he settled so well off the steady early fractions at Newmarket that it could well be the case that he will be capable of proving fully effective over a flat mile with the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville appealing as a potential target. In the longer term, wouldn’t it be exciting to see him take on the challenge of the Breeders’ Cup Mile? With his future as a highly-commercial stallion prospect already secured based on his exploits over sprint distances, perhaps he has more to gain over a mile than over six-and-a-half or seven furlongs.
Of the rest, great credit must also be given to the Kevin Ryan-trained Brando. The five-year-old came from even further back than Caravaggio and flashed home to finish a never-nearer third. The son of Pivotal put up one of the best performances in a handicap in recent years when winning the Ayr Gold Cup off a mark of 110 last season and has now been placed in two Group 1 races since. Based on this effort, his turn at the highest level isn’t far away. Given the hardships that Kevin Ryan has faced this season with an outbreak of equine herpes in his yard, a Group 1 win for Brando would represent a well-deserved return to the top table for the popular Hambleton trainer.