There aren’t many more pleasant places to spend a summer’s afternoon than on Newmarket’s July course.
With its relaxed atmosphere and high-quality racing, the July meeting is one of the highlights of the flat racing year. Over the course of my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work several times at this meeting and I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who has yet to sample its delights.
This year, however, I’ll be tuning in from home and hoping to get stuck into a few juicy bets.
The feature race on the opening day is the Group 2 Prince Of Wales’s Tattersalls Stakes which takes place at 15:35.
Al Aasy is a worth favourite
Much improved this season, the William Haggas-trained Al Aasy sets a tall standard for his four rivals to aim at.
Touted by the trainer himself as possibly his best 3-y-o last year, this son of Sea The Stars was campaigned sparingly, winning twice (including the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy on this card) before finishing down the field behind Mogul in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood.
Given plenty of time off after that poor run, Al Aasy took a significant step forward on his previous form when returning with a convincing win in the Group 3 John Porter Stakes at Newbury in April.
Back there for the Group 3 Aston Park Stakes the following month, he really stamped himself as a high-class performer with a facile success over Thunderous and Logician, never having to come off the bridle.
That performance clearly merited a crack at the top level, which Al Aasy got in the Coronation Cup at Epsom last month. Sent off favourite – albeit a slightly weak one – he lost little in defeat, going down by a neck to the tenacious Pyledriver in what was a cracking finish.
Back down in grade for this assignment, Al Aasy is clearly the one to beat, though certainly hasn’t been missed in the market (1.695/7 at time of writing).
There’s also the possibility that this could turn into a muddling affair – something else that odds-on backers will need to factor into their thinking.
Newmarket’s July course can be a tough place to peg back front-runners if the fractions are sensible, something we’ve seen to good effect in the meetings run there so far this year.
That obviously brings Sir Ron Priestly into the equation, who dictated things in the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup over on the Rowley Mile in May, coming home just over two lengths ahead of the aforementioned Pyledriver.
However, Mark Johnston’s charge has been too keen for his own good in defeat on his last couple of starts and will need to settle better here to pull off a theft-job.
There are others who would be in with a shout should the favourite underperform, including Highest Ground – who has an air of unfinished business about him – and Star Safari, who has done his racing primarily in Dubai over the last couple of years, though both need to find a bit more to topple Al Aasy.
Stowell will take all the beating
The meeting itself gets off to a relatively low-key start, with a fillies’ maiden opening proceedings at 13:20, although things step up a notch just half an hour later with an intriguing renewal of the race Al Aasy won last year, the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy.
While far from an imaginative selection, I’m convinced Stowell will take all the beating here and he rates a solid bet at around the 3.185/40 mark on the Exchange.
This is the horse who should have won on debut at Lingfield in April, having received a considerate ride from Rab Havlin when going down by a neck to his long odds-on stable companion Polling Day.
Havlin received a 21-day ban for that ride, the stewards having deemed he hadn’t taken “all reasonable and permissible measures to achieve the best possible placing.”
Stowell comfortably took care of a pair of rivals in an Ascot novice contest next time, despite still looking a little green.
It was his run back at Ascot for the Royal meeting, though, that really makes Stowell of interest for this race.
Anchored well off a steady pace in the Group 2 Queen’s Vase, he made his effort wide around the home turn and kept on to good effect to finish third, just under 3 lengths behind Godolphin’s Kemari.
While there’s little doubt that the winner was the best horse in the race, sectionals tells us the Stowell can be rated second-best, the modest pace and his poor early position leaving him with plenty to do in the home straight.
I’m expecting Stowell to back up the good impression created there and force himself firmly into the St Leger reckoning with a win in this contest.
Aleezdancer is ready for step up in class
The Group 2 July Stakes at 14:25 is one of our first chances to see the Royal Ascot juvenile form tested, although it’s a youngster who wasn’t seen there that catches my eye.
Aleezdancer went into plenty of notebooks when fourth at Beverley on debut, powering home to finish fourth after initial greenness had seen him well out of his ground.
Back at the Westwood for his next start, Kevin Ryan’s son of Fast Company bolted up in novice company, recording a good timefigure in the process.
Stepped up to 6f last time, he was just as impressive in a similar contest at Carlisle, again powering clear before being eased down, value for at least a few lengths above the bare winning margin.
While obviously facing a big hike in class here – the jump from novice races into Group company is clearly a significant one – this is a juvenile that seems to be held in high regard by a trainer who knows the time of day with this type (also holds a Gimcrack entry at York next month).
I also like the fact that Betfair Ambassador Ryan Moore has been booked for the ride, and I’m more than happy to side with Aleezdancer each-way at a square price.
The 3-y-o sprint handicap at 15:00 has been filed in the ‘too tricky’ tray for me.
Current favourite Boomshalaa could well be a blot on the handicap – he’s looked a pattern performer in the making so far – but it’s entirely possible he could be drawn on the wrong part of the track pace-wise.
There’ll be better punting opportunities than this race as the week unfolds.