Summer is the time of year for fans of flat racing festivals. Sandwiched between Royal Ascot’s June jamboree and the late July/early August showstopper of Glorious Goodwood, we have the always-excellent July Meeting, as racing’s HQ of Newmarket gets in on the act.
Running from Thursday through to Saturday, each of the three days features an event rated at Group 2 level or above, with the big headline act coming in the shape of the July Cup on the closing Saturday.
This six-furlong contest boasts a mightily impressive roll of honour, including the sprinting greats Abernant, Diadem, and Right Boy, who bagged two wins apiece. The high quality of the event has only continued in more recent times, and here we pick out five of the best winners from the current century.
5. 2022: Alcohol Free
- Peak Official Rating – 119
- Sire – No Nay Never
- Trainer – Andrew Balding
- Other Group 1 Wins – Cheveley Park Stakes, Coronation Stakes, Sussex Stakes
Andrew Balding’s flying filly Alcohol Free may be a little shy of others according to the official handicapper, but forces her way onto our list courtesy of her exceptional performance over a range of distances.
Winning at the highest level as a juvenile in the six-furlong Cheveley Park Stakes, she was stepped up to a mile ahead of her three-year-old season. Managing only fifth in the 1,000 Guineas, better was to follow in the Coronation Stakes as she mastered her Guineas conqueror Mother Earth and the talented Snow Lantern. Having seen off the 1,000 Guineas heroine, she then dispatched the 2,000 Guineas hero too, when powering home late to overhaul Poetic Flare in the Sussex Stakes.
Rather than acting as a stepping-stone to further glory, that Sussex Stakes success preceded a string of underwhelming displays. However, a return to her favourite track and drop back to six furlongs worked the oracle in 2022 as she rediscovered her form in some style to land this race with something to spare.
4. 2010: Starspangledbanner
- Peak Official Rating – 120
- Sire – Choisir
- Trainer – Aidan O’Brien
- Other Group 1 Wins – Caulfield Guineas, Oakleigh Plate, Golden Jubilee Stakes
Aidan O’Brien may be most associated with Classic success, but the brains of Ballydoyle also has a penchant for plundering the top sprinting prizes on British shores. Claiming his first July Cup with Stravinsky in 1999, by 2019, O’Brien was landing a fifth with Ten Sovereigns.
Of the O’Brien quintet of winners, the pick of the bunch came in 2010, when Starspangledbanner powered home up the rail to get up close home. That verdict over two-time King’s Stand champ Equiano was a fourth top-level success for Starspangledbanner, who like his father Choisir, won Group 1s in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Starspangledbanner now stands at stud and has already produced a number of Group 1 winners, including State Of Rest and The Wow Signal.
3. 2015: Muhaarar
- Peak Official Rating – 123
- Sire – Oasis Dream
- Trainer – Charles Hills
- Other Group 1 Wins – Commonwealth Cup, Prix Maurice de Gheest, Champions Sprint Stakes
Charles Hills is no stranger to star sprinters, with the express train that was Battaash being the most famous of recent times. But not too far behind him was the breathtakingly quick, Muhaarar.
A sensational win in the 2015 Commonwealth Cup was the most visually impressive of the colt’s four Group 1 victories, as he surged clear from another subsequent winner of this race in Limato. However, in terms of sheer last-gasp excitement, it was his wafer-thin verdict in this event which topped the pile.
Crowned the Champion Sprinter of 2015, a lucrative career at stud was the next stop for Muhaarar. He is already proving an immense success, with his standout out moment coming in the 2021 Fillies and Mares Champion Stakes, when he sired both the winner, Eshaada, and the runner-up, Albaflora.
2. 2003: Oasis Dream
- Peak Official Rating – 125
- Sire – Green Desert
- Trainer – John Gosden
- Other Group 1 Wins – Middle Park Stakes, Nunthorpe Stakes
When landing that 2015 edition of the race, Muhaarar was merely following in the hoofprints of his father, Oasis Dream, who had scorched the Newmarket turf to see off non-other than Choisir in the 2003 renewal. Proving that victory to be no fluke with a sizzling success in the Nunthorpe, Oasis Dream was deservedly crowned the European Champion Sprinter of 2015.
In common with the other colts on our list, Oasis Dream’s exploits on the track made him a hot property at stud. In addition to Muhaarar, Oasis Dream has also given us the 2021 Champion Juvenile, Native Trail, and Sir Henry Cecil’s Midday, who won six times at the highest level.
1. 2011: Dream Ahead
- Peak Official Rating – 128
- Sire – Diktat
- Trainer – David Simcock
- Other Group 1 Wins – Prix Morny, Middle Park Stakes, Sprint Cup, Prix De La Foret
Leading the way, with an exceptional official rating of 128 and five Group 1 wins, is one of the greatest horses to hail from the yard of David Simcock. Good enough to win the Prix Morny on only his second career start, Dream Ahead then proved himself a sprinter of the highest order with a nine-length demolition of the field in the 2010 Middle Park Stakes.
Such was the level of dominance that day, it seemed a racing certainty that further Group 1 successes would follow, and they duly did. Two tussles with Frankel over seven furlongs and a mile predictably didn’t end well, but other than those efforts, the colt was close to faultless – winning two Group 1’s over in France, and of course this race – when far more dominant than the half-length winning margin would suggest. That July afternoon in 2015 proved particularly significant for jockey Hayley Turner, who became the first female jockey to ride a Group 1 winner.