July Festival Shaping Up to Be a Cracker

Moving into July, the flat festival season continues apace. As ever, Royal Ascot lived up to the hype, but the Berkshire bonanza is far from the only summertime show in town. 11 July 2024 sees the action switch to HQ, as Newmarket hosts the always excellent July Festival.

With only two weeks to go, the entries for the headline events make for intriguing reading. Here, we look ahead to the potential clashes in six July Festival highlights.

bet365 Handicap, 6f, Heritage Handicap – Thursday 11 July

The three-year-olds take centre stage in the big handicap on the opening day. A trio of class droppers head the weights in this one, including Orne and Military, who ran in Group 1 company last time out. However, with nine of the last 10 winners carrying 8st12lb or less on the day, they may prove vulnerable if tackling this assignment.

Of those lower in the handicap, Al Shabab Storm has been knocking on the door of late – runner-up in his two most recent outings – and goes for a trainer in Andrew Balding, who has claimed two of the past eight editions of this. Other notables include Dyrholaey, who goes for the red-hot Wathnan Racing operation, and Richard Fahey’s Tropical Island, who ran a nice race on her seasonal return at York.

Princess Of Wales’s Stakes, 1m4f, Group 2 – Thursday 11 July

Several eye-catching contenders hold an entry in the big Group race on the opening day, including a clutch of three-year-olds from the Aidan O’Brien operation, with impressive debut winner Jan Brueghel being a particularly intriguing contender. However, with each of the past 17 editions falling to a runner aged four or above, the older runners have dominated this event.

Following an impressive display in the Hardwicke Stakes, Isle Of Jura stands out amongst the older brigade but has surely earned a crack at a Group 1 now. 2023 champ Israr may return to defend his crown, having hacked up in the Wolferton Stakes last time, whilst stablemate Middle Earth also boasts a win over course and distance.

bet365 Trophy, 1m6f, Heritage Handicap – Friday 12 July

The stayers take to the stage in one of the biggest betting heats on the second day, in a race dominated by the yards of Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie/Mark Johnston in recent years – the past five editions falling to one of those yards.

No entry for Bin Suroor this year, but Charlie Johnston has six remaining in the field at the time of writing. Tenerife Sunshine may be the best of that sextet, having proven his stamina with a strong staying effort to land a 2m contest at Goodwood in June. Harry Eustace’s Divine Comedy currently heads the betting following an excellent second in the Ascot Stakes, with other fancied runners including Fox Journey, who finished an unlucky in running fourth in the Copper Horse Handicap, and Hughie Morrison’s Kyle Of Lochalsh, who has won four times over this trip.

Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes, 1m, Group 1 – Friday 12 July

Falmouth Stakes 2024 Betting Odds

The first of the meeting’s Group 1s could see a Coronation Stakes rematch, with the first, second, and fourth from that Royal Ascot contest all amongst the current entries. Travelling around the Ascot bend suited Porta Fortuna well that day, as she reversed the form with 1000 Guineas heroine, Elmalka, who stayed on from the rear for fourth. It will be interesting to see if she can repeat the trick on a straight track.

Opera Singer finished a length adrift of Porta Fortuna at Ascot and leads the charge for Aidan O’Brien. John & Thady Gosden’s Laurel made an encouraging return from over a year off the track when second in the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes and may go close with that run under her belt. Stablemate Running Lion bounced back to form when winning that contest and may join her in the lineup.

bet365 Bunbury Cup, 7f, Heritage Handicap – Saturday 13 July

Bunbury Cup 2024 Betting Odds

Saturday serves up another big-field handicapping puzzle for punters to solve in the shape of this event named in honour of the man behind the 1000 and 2000 Guineas – Sir Charles Bunbury.

Open to runners aged three and up, the older performers have dominated this event. Each of the past 25 editions have gone to a runner aged four or older. The Ed Walker-trained four-year-old English Oak heads the betting in 2024. Looking like a group horse in a handicap when storming home in the Buckingham Palace Stakes, he’s saddled with a 6lb penalty here but is the one they all have to beat. Royal Hunt Cup winner Wild Tiger and Buckingham Palace Stakes third Carrytheone head up the opposition. Keep an eye on the draw here, as seven of the past nine winners have emerged from a double-figure stall.

My Pension Expert July Cup Stakes, 6f, Group 1 – Saturday 13 July

July Stakes 2024 Betting Odds

Last but by no means least, the main event, as a field of the most talented sprinters in training does battle over 6f. With five wins in the past decade, the three-year-olds have held their own in this contest and dominate the betting in 2024. Topping the pile is the Kevin Ryan-trained Commonwealth Cup hero Inisherin. Putting any ground concerns to bed when bolting up in that Royal Ascot affair, he is now unbeaten in two Group class 6f events and looks like a horse firmly on the up.

Simon & Ed Crisford’s Vandeek has four lengths to find with Inisherin, having finished third in the Commonwealth Cup, but may strip fitter for what was his first run in 238 days. English Oak would rate an intriguing contender if plunged straight into Group 1 company, whilst Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes champ Khaadem, 2023 July Stakes winner Jasour, and Wathnan Racing’s £1million purchase Rogue Lightning have all previously won over this course and distance.