The Guide to the Newmarket July Festival
Newmarket racecourse is one of the most hallowed destinations in the world of thoroughbred racing and one of its principal showpieces is the annual July Festival.
Since Newmarket uses two separate racecourses, it makes sense that the July Festival is contested over the July Course, which is 1m in length and was formerly referred to as the Bunbury Mile. Famous for its testing, undulating surface – the July Course boasts a final furlong where contenders must run uphill.
The July Festival is, first and foremost, a tremendous three days of racing in the middle of one of the most prestigious seasonal meetings in the world. The level of racing during the summer at Newmarket is difficult to match with high-profile race teams and famous connections on virtually every race-card.
There is a lot of money to be won at the meet itself, with many Group 1 encounters set to run during the three-day July Festival.
Traditionally, the July Festival kicks off on a Thursday with the opening day running the weakest card of the three days, relatively speaking.
Each year, the Falmouth Stakes is the first Group 1 to be contested at the Festival and it represents one of the premier events for fillies and mares. The race is contested over a 1m distance over the straight July Course.
The race traces its origins back to 1911 but has been run in its present form since 1979. The Al Maktoum family have been prominent connections in this race, saddling a number of big winners over the past few decades.
The race generally represents a who's-who of female milers from across the globe with living-legend Goldikova taking the victory here in 2009.
On Saturday, the anchor race is the Group 1 July Cup which is widely-considered to be one of the top sprint events anywhere. The race has been run nearly every year since 1876 with famous jockey Lester Piggott making the race his own by capturing it on ten different occasions throughout his prestigious career that lasted nearly half a decade in the irons. Sunridge famously took the race three years on the bounce between 1902-1905.
The July Cup is a straight 6f that carries similarity to several of the straight sprint events that kick off at Ascot during the Royal Ascot Festival (just don't say that too loudly when you're on-course). A recent addition to the Global Sprint Challenge, the race serves as the sixth leg of the world-famous short-distance contest.
Starspangledbanner took the race as a feather in his cap during the summer of 2010 and another famous winner was Goldikova's father Anabaa, who took the race under Criquette Head in 1996.
Other popular races run throughout the three day event include the prestigious Group 2 Princess of Wales' Stakes, which is a tricky 1m4f contest for three-year-olds and up. Sir Michael Stoute has hit well in this race throughout the last decade, capturing it four times in ten years. It generally features on the under-card of day two at the July Festival.
The Group 2 July Stakes is also contested on day two of the festival and it ranks as one of the oldest high-class horse races in all of Britain, being run for the first time back in 1786. It is restricted to two-year-old contenders and is run at a pure sprint distance of 6f.
A victory here sets a contender up for a Group 1 sprint campaign during its three-year-old season or could lay the foundation for a run at the Classics should connections believe they can get the extra distance from the animal.
The Superlative Stakes is another two-year-old contest but is run on the final day of the festival and features contenders going 7f. It is a more recent addition to the card, being run for the first time in 1986.
The deeper fields can make wagering on many of the July Festival races a bit difficult but the fact that many of the feature contests aren't particularly long races makes them a bit more approachable to novices.
When handicapping many of the sprint stakes for younger horses, it's worth keeping an eye on the physical stature of many of the contenders as you're not looking for a lot of length – you're looking for a muscular contender with a large hind-quarters who looks in prime shape.
You don't have as much race experience to work with when betting on juveniles so it can be worth keeping an eye both on physical stature and on the animal's behaviour in addition to the handicapping angles relevant to its trainer, jockey and pedigree.