One of the rare delights of the English summer is to go racing at Newmarket’s July Course, where there is a distinctly laid-back approach to racing.
The highlight of the course’s programme is the July Festival which takes place in the second week of that month each year.
And the jewel in the crown across the three days of action is undeniably the July Cup, a Group 1 contest, open to horses aged three years or older. Whilst the race is regarded as one of the key components of the Champion Sprint Division, the 6 furlong trip takes place on a rollercoaster of a course with a stiff uphill finish and plenty of milers and seven furlongs experts have landed the July Cup down the years.
The race was first competed for in 1876, with the colt Springfield, bred by Queen Victoria, successful in the first two renewals. Charibert repeated this feat in 1880 and 1881 but the first superstar to win came in 1887 when the Triple Crown winner Ormonde beat two rivals. At this point in time the race was known as the Imperial Gold Cup.
The new Century heralded the most successful horse in the history of the July Cup as Sundridge won three consecutive renewals from 1902 to 1904. Sundridge was trained by Charles Morton for the last two of these victories which helped contribute to his tally of five successes (he also won the race with Spanish Prince in 1912 and 1913 and Golden Sun the following year). All five of Morton’s wins made Jack Joel the leading owner in the history of the race.
Morton’s success was matched by Dr Vincent O’Brien thanks to: Thatch (1973), Saritamer (1974), Solinus (1978), Thatching (1979) and Royal Academy (1990).
There was no race in 1917 but just one year after the First World War came to its conclusion, the outstanding Diadem won back to back runnings in 1919 and 1920.
Diomedes won the race in 1925 and became the latest dual winner the following year; although he dead-heated with Phalaros in the only such outcome in the July Cup’s long history.
Bellacose won consecutive renewals in 1935 and 1936 but the Second World War called a halt to proceedings.
Abernant ended a tumultuous decade on a high note with wins in 1949 and 1950 and Right Boy was another dual winner in 1958 and 1959, ridden by the young wizard Lester Piggott, who had also ridden Vigo to win the race in 1957. In all Piggott rode a record 10 winners of the July Cup with his other triumphs thanks to: Tin Whistle (1960), Thatch (1973), Saritamer (1974), Solinus (1978), Thatching (1979), Moorestyle (1980) and Mr Brooks (1992).
The 1977 renewal saw the only disqualification in the long history of the July Cup as Maransky was first past the post but demoted to second place behind Gentilhombre.
The present system of race grading was introduced in 1971, and the July Cup was initially classed at Group 2 level. It was eventually promoted to Group 1 status in 1978.
That year saw Piggot ride the first of another three consecutive winners in the race as he partnered the O’Brien colt Solinus who would become Champion Sprinter for the year with other victories in the King’s Stand Stakes and William Hill Sprint Championship.
A year later, the duo was back with the superbly fast Thatching, who beat a quality field including the 1,000 Guineas winner One In A Million. Then in 1980 Piggott rode the superb Moorestyle to victory over Vaigly Great and Sharpo.
The 1980s proved a golden era for the July Cup as 3 year old horses who had just fallen short in Classics were dropped in distance to take on the existing sprint status quo.
A prime example came in 1981 when Sir Michael Stoute’s filly Marwell – just beaten in the Guineas by Fairy Footsteps, got the better of the previous year’s winner Moorestyle.
A year later Sharpo gained compensation for his defeat two years earlier and Jeremy Tree’s 5 year old proved an outstanding sprinter over three seasons.
In 1983 the fillies took centre stage as the brilliant Habibti – another failed Classic contender who didn’t quite stay the Guineas mile, brilliantly defeated the prolific filly Soba in a quality field that included Salieri and the future Sussex Stakes winner Noalchoholic.
The 1984 race was another vintage renewal, featuring the Sprint Queen Habibti, the exciting Committed, Never So Bold, Forzando, top juvenile Superlative – and the giant Chief Singer. Ron Sheather’s colt had finished an excellent second to El Gran Senor in the 2,000 Guineas before routing his rivals by 8 lengths in the St James’s Palace Stakes. In the July Cup, Chief Singer and Ray Cochrane got the perfect split when it mattered and burst through, with the colt’s giant stride devouring the uphill finish and helping him to pull away from the outstanding Never So Bold.
A year later and Never So Bold truly ruled the sprinting division – although he had a desperate tendency to pull up lame immediately after races. Having already won at Royal Ascot, Never So Bold found himself up against another Classic filly in Dafayna – who had dropped back in trip to win at the Royal meeting – as well as Committed. Steve Cauthen delivered Never So Bold with a perfectly timed run to take up the running around the furlong pole and the colt lengthened his style in the manner of a champion, drawing clear of Committed and Dafayna.
In 1986 it was another Classic contender and Guineas runner-up who lifted the July Cup. Green Desert had been second in the 2,000 Guineas to the mighty Dancing Brave but failed efforts at the Curragh and in the St James’s Palace Stakes convinced Sir Michael Stoute that the horse might be more effective dropped in trip. A field of just 5 runners made this a tactical July Cup with Grey Desire going on from the brilliant French colt Last Tycoon but Green Desert had gone on by halfway and repelled all raiders to give the Al Maktoum family a first July Cup in the colours of Sheikh Maktoum.
His brother Sheikh Mohammed would win the next two renewals, with Ajdal – yet another Classic contender reverting to sprinting, proving that 6 furlongs was his real forte. Ajdal had tantalisingly won the previous year’s Dewhurst Stakes but his stride appeared to shorten in the final furlong leaving question marks about his stamina. At 3 years old he beat Don’t Forget Me in the Craven Stakes but that form was reversed in the Guineas where Ajdal bumped Most Welcome and was disqualified, losing his unbeaten record. He met further defeat in the Irish equivalent and then ran down the field in the Epsom Derby. So Sir Michael Stoute dropped him back in distance with spectacular results. In the July Cup he beat the very fast pair of Gayane and Bluebird, having raced up with the pace from early on. He would go on to become Champion Sprinter.
The 1988 renewal went to a very classy miler in Soviet Star. Winner of the previous year’s French 2,000 Guineas and Sussex Stakes, Soviet Star had been locking horns with the outstanding Miesque but the contours of Newmarket’s July course seemed tailor-made for this powerful colt. In the July Cup he put some top class sprinters to the sword including Indian Ridge, Gallic League, Handsome Sailor and Big Shuffle, with his stamina coming to the fore allowing him to dominate in the final furlong.
The Maktoum domination of the race meanwhile, continued in 1989 as Olivier Douieb trained the brilliant Cadeaux Genereux to victory. This colt had sprung to prominence as a hugely progressive 3 year old the year before and had been unlucky when disqualified in the Prix de l’Abbaye, for interference early in the race, even though he had decisively won the contest. Despite being under par so far in 1989, he bounced back to his best in the July Cup as Sheikh Maktoum got the better of Sheikh Mohammed’s French filly Golden Opinion, with Guineas placed Danehill in third in another vintage renewal.
The Maktoum stronghold was finally broken in 1990 by O’Brien’s final July Cup winner, Royal Academy. The 3 year old colt had run second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas to Tirol but had misbehaved at Royal Ascot when refusing to enter the stalls for the St James’s Palace Stakes and he was beginning to look like a disappointment. However he confounded critics by dropping down in distance, entering the stalls and blitzing the Sheikh Maktoum pair of Great Commotion and Magic Gleam, who were split by another 3 year old Guineas contender Rock City. Whilst Royal Academy could not live with Dayjur later on, his name is forever remembered for the ride he gave Lester Piggott as he returned from 5 years of retirement to land the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
In 1991 Guy Harwood’s Polish Patriot beat the 2,000 Guineas runner-up Lycius as the 3 year olds dominated older horses of the calibre of Elbio and Polar Falcon. Sadly Polish Patriot was injured in wining and promptly retired to stud.
Lester Piggott was very much enjoying a renaissance during 1992 which had seen him forge an irresistible partnership with the dual Guineas and multiple Group 1 winner Rodrigo de Triano. However Piggott was also seen to best effect aboard Mr Brooks, a colt who had improved dramatically when dropped in distance, having contested the 1990 Derby. In the 1992 July Cup Mr Brooks was not really expected to give much of a race to Sheikh Albadou, the undoubted star turn who had travelled to America and beaten the local sprinters in the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup. Also in the line-up was the superbly fast Shalford and Paris House, not to mention Wolfhound and the Guineas placed Pursuit Of Love. As Shalford blazed a trail Piggott was content to sit in last place, with the entire field covered. In a dramatic finish, Sheikh Albadou went on but was passed by Mr Brooks inside the final furlong. The Sheikh fought back while against the rails Pursuit Of Love stormed home on the inside. The trio flashed past the post together but it was Mr Brooks and the peerless Piggott who got the verdict.
The Maktoums were back in business in 1993 as Hamas sprung a surprise to run a lifetime best and reverse Royal Ascot form with Vincent O’Brien’s College Chapel.
But 1993 was really all about that flying filly Lochsong, who was on her day virtually untouchable over 5 furlongs and a flat 6 furlongs. However, the July Course is far from flat at its demands seemed just beyond Ian Balding’s magnificent star. Even so, in 1994 Lochsong started favourite for the July Cup against some prodigious rivals including the outstanding miler Barathea, French raider Dolphin Street and the very fast Catrail. However it was the 3 year old Owington – who had failed to stay in the Greenham Stakes before reverting successfully to sprinting, who narrowly defeated Dolphin Street as Lochsong failed to strike a blow.
Owington was back to defend his title in 1995 amid thunder storms and overcast skies. But it was the Geoff Lewis trained Lake Coniston who had improved from 3 to 4 years and sprinted 4 lengths clear of Piccolo, with Owington an honourable fourth.
France had not won the July Cup since Soviet Star’s 1988 success for Andre Fabre, but Criquette Head-Maarek was about to change that as she sent her fast-improving colt Anabaa to Newmarket for the 1996 renewal. The colt had physical problems as a youngster and was largely unwanted but the trainer persisted with him and he just got better and better. At Newmarket he dominated to beat Lucayan Prince, Hever Golf Rose, Mind Game and Pivotal.
One of the big shocks of recent years came a year later when Compton Place easily disposed of the top class Royal Applause to give jockey Seb Sanders his first Group 1 success. Compton Place was back the following year and one of an unusually large field of 17 runners. However he finished well down the field as Elnadim got the better of the smart 3 year old Tamarisk and Danetime.
The 20th Century ended with an explosive burst of speed as Stravinsky blitzed another large field. Aidan O’Brien’s colt had once entertained Classic hopes but failed to sparkle in the spring and failed to stay. So he was brought back in trip and took on 16 rivals including 1,000 Guineas placed Wannabe Grand, Bold Edge and Bertolini. Indeed the race appeared to be between the latter two horses but at the furlong pole, Stravinsky stormed through on the far side in distinctive red blinkers and duly raced away from his opponents as if they were running through treacle.
The new Century heralded a truly international feel to the July Cup which has persisted up to the time of writing. In 2008 the race became part of the Global Sprint Challenge and currently forms the sixth leg of this series.
But back in 2000, the race was already attracting international interest and that year it saw a landmark victory. The previous autumn the Japanese colt Agnes World travelled to France and shocked the world with victory in the Prix de l’Abbaye. He lined up at Newmarket against former Classic aspirants Primo Valentino and Monashee Mountain, as well as the top class older horses Lend A Hand (once second in the 2,000 Guineas to King of Kings), Pipalong and Bertolino. Primo Valentino and Lincoln Dancer cut out the running but the Japanese raider was always poised just in behind and joined the leaders at the furlong marker before battling Lincoln Dancer and Pipalong all the way to the line in a thrilling three-way photo. The result marked the first major Japanese success in English racing and helped to pave the way for far more Japanese runners in Europe.
Stravinsky had been brilliant when landing the July Cup in 1999 and the Aidan O’Brien stable had another colt with a similar 3 year old profile two years later as Mozart lined-up for the race. The field split and raced across the course with Primo Valentino leading the far side group while Mozart lead a bigger cluster against the stand rails. With a furlong to race it was clear that Mozart had the advantage as he saw off the challenge of Shibboleth and Cassandra Go, while Pipalong battled on bravely to head the far side group. With a furlong to race Mozart had gone clear and his rivals were never able to strike a blow as he waltzed clear.
The following year there was a remarkable one-two for Lucayan Stud as the Dandy Nicholls-trained pair of Continent and Bahamian Pirate fought out the finish to the race, with the former winning the battle.
In 2003 the international significance of racing really hit home as the giant Australian sprinter Choisir dominated the Group 1 sprints at Royal Ascot, winning both contests against the cream of Europe’s sprinters. Behind Choisir in the Kings’ Stand Stakes had been Oasis Dream, the brilliant winner of the previous year’s Middle Park Stakes, who was having his seasonal debut at Royal Ascot. At Newmarket he proved much fitter and stormed to victory in memorable style.
Another Australian runner looked set to dominate the July Cup of 2004 as Sheik Mohammed’s exciting charge Exceed and Excel travelled from Down Under with a prodigious reputation. UP against him were 19 rivals including the brilliantly fast filly Airwave, the Dandy Nicholls pair of Continent and Bahamian Pirate (who were now rank outsiders), Nayyir, Kheleyf, Antonius Pius and Somnus. But it was James Fanshawe’s improving mare Frizzante who burst through to land the prize ahead of outsider Ashdown Express and Balmont.
The placed horses were back in 2005, along with Bahamian Pirate, Somnus and Ifraaj, but with rain softened ground, the Hughie Morrison trained Pastoral Pursuits proved best before embarking on a career at stud.
Les Arcs had an unusual path to the 2006 July Cup and proved a real rags to riches racehorse. When he landed a small handicap on the Lingfield Park all-weather, just a week before Christmas 2005, few can have guessed that this was a first stepping stone to Group 1 glory. Further victories followed on the all-weather during the early months of 2006 as Les Arcs racked up a five-timer, before reverting to normal form on the turf. Having finished down the field behind Australia’s latest star Takeover Target in the Kings’ Stand Stakes, few took notice of Les Arcs in the Golden Jubilee Stakes on the Saturday of Royal Ascot but the 6 year old came back to form to shade Balthazar’s Gift. In the July Cup he confirmed that victory was no fluke as he narrowly defeated Ifraaj, with Ashdown Express again making the frame just ahead of the smart Amadeus Wolf.
Hughie Morrison was back to contest the 2007 July Cup with his latest sprint star as Sakhee’s Secret came to the race seeking a four-timer. A quality renewal saw the 3 year old beat his contemporary Dutch Art, with the smart Red Clubs in third. Also in the field were the smart French grey Marchand D’Or, Asset, Borderlescott and Amadeus Wolf.
A year on and Marchand D’Or had developed into a real Group 1 horse. En route to the July Cup Freddie Head’s charge had won a Group 2 at Chantilly but he had also defeated Dutch Art in a Group 1 the previous summer. The improvement in Marchand D’Or was confirmed at Newmarket as he beat US Ranger and War Artist, with Kingsgate Native further down the field.
Despite dominating the big sprints at Royal Ascot, an Australian sprinter had still to win the July Cup. In 2009 Scenic Blast had made a huge visual impression as he beat the 4 year old filly Fleeting Spirit in the King’s Stand Stakes. His compatriot Takeover Target was also in the line-up along with Fleeting Spirit, the South African superstar JJ The Jet Plane, French filly African Rose, the star miler Paco Boy and the brilliantly fast Art Connoisseur. But it was the filly Fleeting Spirit, who showed great precocity to burst clear of the improving colt Main Aim, with JJ The Jet Plane finishing just ahead of Paco Boy.
It was in 2010 that the Australian hoodoo was finally broken – albeit by an ex-Australian trained runner. Starspangledbanner had been a leading sprinter in his homeland before he was purchased by Coolmore and sent to race in Ireland for Aidan O’Brien. After taking a race to warm up when fifth in the Duke Of York Stakes, the real Starspangledbanner came to the fore in the Golden Jubilee Stakes with a blistering victory over Society Rock. At Newmarket he burst through against the far rail and repelled the challenge of Equiano, with another Australian Alverta in third, ahead of Fleeting Spriti, French horse Varenar, Society Rock, American horse Kinsale King and another Australian runner Nicconi.
There was another first in 2011 as Dream Ahead, another failed miler, confirmed that 6 furlongs was very much up his street – the same distance he had annihilated his rivals over in the Middle Park Stakes the previous autumn. The first came for his rider Hayley Turner, as she landed the first Group 1 victory of her career. Dream Ahead was beating a classy field that included Bated Breath in second, Hitchens in third, while also in the line-up were Delegator (who had finished second to Sea The Stars in the 2,000 Guineas), Libranno and Australian challenger Star Witness.
The 2012 July Cup was run in heavy ground and went the way of confirmed mud lark Mayson, as his rivals were strung out like chasers at the end of a 3 mile steeple chase. Following Mayson home 5 lengths adrift was The Cheka, while Society Rock ran well for third place, just ahead of the smart Australian filly Ortensia.
In 2013 the race was run on much quicker ground as Clive Cox’s brilliant grey Lethal Force followed up his dominance in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes with a convincing victory over the perennial Society Rock. Slade Power finished a promising third and by season’s end had confirmed himself a leading sprinter over 6 furlongs, while his stable mate Sole Power disappointed on the day but had further Group 1 victories in the future.
In recent years, Dream Ahead aside, the focus of the July Cup has been increasingly on the international challengers. In 2014 that point was prevalent as the Irish-trained Slade Power won the race from Tropics, with the American challenger Undrafted a fine fourth.
Twelve months later and Tropics again went desperately close. In the final analysis he was edged out of first place by the outstanding three year old colt Muhaarar.
In 2016 the four year old Limato powered up the hill to win the July Cup under Harry Bentley. Later in the year the colt would add the Group 1 Prix de la Foret to his impressive record.
Limato was back in 2017 and gave a credible defence of his crown, finishing second to the Clive Cox-trained Harry Angel. The July Festival that year featured a two year old who ran well in the July Stakes but really came into his own later that season.
U S Navy Flag ended 2017 by becoming the first horse since Diesis, in 1982, to complete the Middle Park Stakes-Dewhurst Stakes double.
In the spring of 2018, Aidan O’Brien’s now-three year old, failed to make his mark over a mile. He dropped down to six furlongs and landed the July Cup from Brando and his stable mate Fleet Review.
Winners of the July Cup
1890: Queen of the Fairies
1893: Prince Hampton
1894: Best Man
1900: Running Stream
1901: Lord Bobs
1909: Jack Snipe
1912: Spanish Prince
1913: Spanish Prince
1914: Golden Sun
1917: no race
1918: Irish Elegance
1923: Golden Corn
1926: Diomedes / Phalaros
1927: Highborn II
1928: Golden Oracle
1930: Sir Cosmo
1937: Mickey the Greek
1940: no race
1942–44: no race
1946: The Bug
1947: Falls of Clyde
1948: Palm Vista
1951: Hard Sauce
1952: Set Fair
1953: Devon Vintage
1955: Pappa Fourway
1958: Right Boy
1959: Right Boy
1960: Tin Whistle
1963: Secret Step
1964: Daylight Robbery
1965: Merry Madcap
1967: Forlorn River
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