Alex Hammond: Rock on, Slade
As a ‘youngster’ the July meeting was one of my favourite places to be. I used to head there every year with my Mum and one of the things I remember, apart from the fabulous racing, is the 'Thunderbugs' (the small itchy flies).
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I didn't feel like I was missing out too much this year though when I tuned in to watch the racing on the Thursday, as it poured down and conditions will clearly be on the soft side for the big race, the Darley July Cup, on Saturday.
It looks an exceptional contest with 16 horses declared. Edward Lynam is having huge fun with his ‘Power’ horses and both Sole and Slade are declared to run but you would imagine the ground would need to dry out quickly for King’s Stand winner Sole Power who shows his best on a sound surface. In fact, his trainer said on Friday morning that he is an unlikely starter.
Diamond Jubilee victor Slade Power, on the other hand won’t mind the ground however it rides on the July Course and for that reason he is my preferred choice of his two runners.
He has done most of his winning over Saturday’s trip too and he is a major player. Due Diligence is one of three three-year-olds representing Aidan O’Brien in this and comes here having finished second to Slade Power in the Diamond Jubilee. He didn’t get the most straightforward passage there and is a proven performer on soft ground so is of interest here even though it can be tough for three-year-old sprinters.
Noozhoh Canarias finish a non-staying sixth in the 2000 Guineas and the drop in trip shouldn’t inconvenience this smart Spanish trained three-year-old.
Aljamaaheer is gradually getting the hang of sprinting and the penny should really have dropped now. I fancied him for the Diamond Jubilee but he probably still needed experience in the sprinting division - despite that he ran well to be third. My concern about him in this race is the ground as he seems better on a sound surface so I’ll be keeping an eye on conditions, but the stiff finish at Newmarket should suit and if the ground is good or better I’d fancy his chances.
Hot Streak is another smart three-year-old sprinter and was beaten favourite when third in the King’s Stand. He will enjoy ease in the ground and there’s no reason this six furlong-trip won’t suit as well as the five has been.
Like Hot Streak, Astaire is also trained by Kevin Ryan. He would prefer the ground to remain on the soft side but looks like he needs to up his game to beat the protagonists.
Undrafted has travelled over from America for Royal Ascot winning trainer Wesley Ward. He has had a feel of the undulations of this track this week but didn’t really need that rain to fall.
Everything seems to be in the favour of Slade Power and I’m going with him for Eddie Lynam and Wayne Lordan and if it were to dry out significantly Aljamaaheer would be at the top of my shortlist.
The 666Bet Bunbury Cup looks as tough as ever to predict. A full field of 20 were declared and at the time of writing there was one non-runner, Don’t Bother Me, so a maximum of 19 go to post for this ultra-competitive seven-furlong handicap.
Horsted Keynes runs off the same handicap mark that saw him finish an excellent second in the Buckingham Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot behind another of Saturday’s runners, Louis the Pious, who has a tough task in his bid to follow up.
Horsted Keynes is another who prefers top of the ground and I’d like to see it good or faster to give him his best chance - that looks unlikely.
Georgian Bay was eighth in that Ascot race and his trainer Karl Burke is operating at a 33% strike rate at the moment. He didn’t get the best of runs and was staying on nicely. Abseil was well fancied for the Hunt Cup and was sent off 7/2 favourite. However, Sir Michael Stoute’s four-year-old was only eighth after being denied a clear run, but I’m not sure the drop back to seven furlongs is what he wants.
Royal Hunt Cup winner Field of Dream won this race last year and is now 9lb higher 12 months on taking into account the penalty he carries for that recent win. The form of the Wokingham Handicap can also be taken into account with regard this race.
Andrew Balding’s Absolutely So was the well-supported favourite that day but the ground didn’t suit and he could only finish 15th. Conditions will suit him better on Saturday. It was the horse that finished ninth that I like, Glen Moss, who ran well to head his group home on the far side. The far side wasn’t the place to be and he has run well on each of his four starts for his new trainer, David Brown. He must be there or thereabouts once more on ground that will suit. I think he could offer some good each way value here.
Moving away from Newmarket and York also stage a decent card on Saturday where the feature race is the 55th John Smith’s Cup.
I love this mile-and-a-quarter handicap and a maximum field of 20 have been declared. It is a disadvantage to be drawn high here as it’s difficult over this trip at this track to ride the race you want from a wide stall position. That’s a blow for Roger Varian as Faraaj is drawn widest of all in 22. That’s a shame as he was a ready winner over this trip at Epsom last time out. He’s 9lb higher for that win.
Favourite Bold Sniper is well drawn for Sir Michael Stoute and Ryan Moore and they come out of stall seven. He wears the hood and doesn’t look totally straightforward, but came close to giving The Queen a Royal Ascot winner and runs off the same mark here.
One point to make here is that despite the deluge of rain at Newmarket, it has been dry at York and we have perfect summer racing ground; it’s good to firm.
Tarikhi is one that catches my eye. Trained for Godolphin by Saeed bin Suroor he had his first start for a year at this track last month. He has been gelding during his time on the sidelines and should strip fitter for that outing. That run came over nine furlongs and this extra furlong looks ideal. He also has the assistance of Kieren Fallon who is the master at riding this track after his grounding when based in the North in the early part of his career. The horse isn’t badly drawn in 11 and with only seven starts to his name so far there could be more to come.
Fallon was on board Godolphin’s other runner, Saxo Jack, at Royal Ascot last time out. The horse got in a stew beforehand and finished last and I hope he’s on the right one this time.
Queensberry Rules is a horse I’m finding frustrating to follow. I fancied him for the Hunt Cup, but he didn’t get into it and has stamina to prove over this 10 furlong trip. His trainer William Haggas is making a habit of winning this race though.
Clever Cookie started out life in bumpers for trainer Peter Niven; winning his first two. He then had a few runs over hurdles, again winning in that sphere including in Grade Two company. So, he’s a useful performer and that has been highlighted since his switch to the Flat where he has struck up a good partnership with Graham Lee. He broke his maiden on soft ground over 12 furlongs at Doncaster and since then has progressed further to win twice. He won a handicap here over this trip on soft ground and then dead heated for a mile and three quarter Listed race on easy ground also on the Knavesmire. My concern is that the best of his form is with cut in the ground and at the moment he doesn’t look like getting that. He looks ahead of the handicapper though.
Top weight goes to Cambridgeshire winner Educate who is 8lb higher in the handicap since that win last autumn.
Chancery looks the pick of David O’Meara’s trio, although he is drawn very high. He does though have good form at this track including over this trip.
John Gosden is handy at getting horses to win big handicaps before going on to bigger and better things. He saddles Nabucco who looks like he would prefer more cut in the ground than he is likely to get; the rain will most likely come too late for him.
Tahiri isn’t without a chance for trainer John Quinn. He hasn’t had this former German trained filly for too long, but she has run well in a couple of starts for her new handler. The trip suits her, but the ground may not be soft enough. I’m going for Kieren Fallon’s mount Tarikhi to provide Godolphin with a win in this valuable handicap.