For anyone who has wondered quite how the British Turf continues to seduce investment from the Gulf, perhaps a day at the July Festival at Newmarket might prove every bit as instructive as one spent among the pomp and pageantry of Ascot or Epsom. At a time of year when their homelands seem most arid, the sheikhs find themselves driven through avenues of trees between green paddocks to a racecourse full of shade and flowers. And if the quality of the sport is mixed, with plenty of maidens and handicaps as ballast to the elite contests, then there will be a corresponding air of relaxation over the next three afternoons – not least granted the benign weather forecast.
The opening race is typical of the fare, a lack of proven stars redressed by the possibility that one could be about to emerge. Who knows? Perhaps Dare To Achieve (1.40) could even announce himself as a possible Ladbrokes St Leger colt as he steps up from a Pontefract maiden to Group Three company. After all, this son of Galileo has always been well regarded by his shrewd trainer, William Haggas. And while it did take him three attempts to get off the mark, he looked very promising in his sole start at two and then bumped into a subsequent Royal Ascot winner, Remote, when second over just 10 furlongs on his reappearance at Newbury. He duly outclassed some inferior rivals when stepped up in trip at Pontefract and, with that solid grounding, looks ready to improve past a handful who strictly achieved more when filling minor roles in the Queen's Vase at Ascot.
A similar contrast presents itself in the Portland Place Properties July Stakes, between a colt whose third in the Coventry Stakes at Ascot sets the form standard, and a number who have shown abundant promise in maidens. The Richard Hannon pair both look tempting, on account of the sheer depth of his juvenile resources, but Sir John Hawkins (2.10) was exposed to a molten gallop in the Coventry – one that enabled his stablemate, War Command, to open right up in the final stages – and has the pedigree to keep improving. (He is by Henrythenavigator out of that remarkable mare Peeping Fawn.)
The Princess Of Wales's Boylesports Stakes often brings together horses that have either lost their way or been found out in the top grade, and again raises plenty of questions. Universal (2.40) proved very game when stepped up in grade back in the spring, and has since run extremely well in the Hardwicke Stakes. It would be unwise to grant him a soft lead on a track that suits front-runners.
The handicap that concludes Channel 4's coverage is always one of the most competitive of the summer, and again brings together several improvers. Greeleys Love (3.15) hardly qualifies as an obvious one, but he will be a corresponding price and has more than once given the impression he has more ability than this rating. Having met traffic when raised in trip at Ascot, he is worth one last chance at very big odds.
Only four runners have been declared for the first of the meeting's two Group One races, the Etihad Airways Falmouth Stakes tomorrow – but they do include Sky Lantern, brilliant winner of the Coronation Stakes, and last year's one-two, Giofra and Elusive Kate. The other runner, Purr Along, will be the clear outsider but has the distinction of becoming Frankie Dettori's first mount in the silks of Sheikh Joaan since signing the retainer that he hopes will unlock the door back to the big time.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Baldemar (8.55 Epsom) Loves this idiosyncratic track, a winner here three times already, and looked unlucky not to exploit a handy mark when second at Thirsk last time.
Chunky Diamond (4.50 Doncaster) Having tumbled down the handicap, bounced back to form at Haydock last week and is plainly ahead of the game without a penalty.
One to watch
Velox (Luca Cumani) is progressing quickly, held up in his run before closing well for second on his handicap debut at Haydock the other day.
Where the money's going
The Kevin Ryan-trained Hamza, winner of his last two starts, is 12-1 from 20-1 with Ladbrokes for the Darley July Cup at Newmarket on Saturday.
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