That life was tough for a three-year-old sprinter used to be a familiar refrain from trainers. Fresh impetus has been gained from the introduction of the Commonwealth Cup, however, and Caravaggio is trading at around even-money to become the 36th three-year-old winner of the Darley July Cup since the War on Saturday.
As much as this ensures some eyebrow-raising prices about some of Europe’s elite in a ten-strong field, it still feels as if they can only be considered each-way bets to nothing if an identical or even improved Caravaggio shows up.
This is a race which could have significant repercussions for the favourite, reported by trainer Aidan O’Brien as the fastest he has ever trained. Among the former stable companions he has eclipsed are Mozart and Stravinsky, who both claimed the six-furlong Group One as three-year-olds and might very well have been aimed at the Commonwealth Cup had it been an option in 2001 and 1999 respectively.
O’Brien’s latest sprinting star differs in still being unbeaten and dazzled in coming past Harry Angel and Blue Point at Royal Ascot. Certainly, such an effort only three weeks ago will have taken its toll, but the same applies to nearly all of his serious opponents.
Not only does he have to confirm his superiority over Harry Angel and advance over the older division headed by The Tin Man, Adaay and Limato, it might also shape his future. Defeat would surely make it less likely that he is taken on a fascinating trip to Australia in October for The Everest, the elite new race worth almost £6million.
It can safely be assumed that Caravaggio will retire at the end of the year as Coolmore’s replacement for his late sire Scat Daddy, with John Magnier emphasising his importance as genetic variation for a portfolio of mares now dominated by Galileo’s blood. He is a priceless commodity already, but the July Cup is the race that underlines the status of a champion sprinter, if there is one to be found.
A position at joint-fifth in Timeform’s complete Flat ratings illustrates how good Abernant was. Indeed that mark of 142 makes him comfortably the best sprinter of his century, at a level that might never be equalled. A grandson of ‘Spotted Wonder’ The Tetrarch, this gentle-natured dappled grey would come alive on the racecourse and usually break his rivals with his sheer pace.
After he was caught on the line in the 2000 Guineas, trainer Noel Murless switched him back to shorter distances and the July Cup was one of a sequence of impressive victories, including the King’s Stand Stakes and the Nunthorpe Stakes. Abernant went on to win it again at four, tasting only one defeat in sprints throughout his career when he could not quite concede 23lb to Tangle on heavy ground back at Royal Ascot. He is remembered by a race in his name at Newmarket in the spring.
If a three-year-old colt who wins the July Cup is quite a rare breed, it is an even greater distinction for a filly. The last time this happened was a couple of times in the early 80s, with Habibti following the example of the brilliant Marwell a couple of years before.
As had to be the case in the time before the Commonwealth Cup became an option, Habibti had been tried in both the English and Irish 1000 Guineas and failed to sparkle. She took off once John Dunlop aimed for the sprints, announcing her arrival with a two and a half length defeat of the prolific Soba. She was to later deliver her defining performance in coming a stunning seven lengths clear in the Haydock Sprint Cup as well as winning the Prix de l’Abbaye. Habibti’s Timeform figure of 136 also ranks her as an all-time great.
There is something alluring about Stravinsky’s July Cup triumph. He was not the most obvious of champions on paper, failing to live up to early hype with only a maiden win to his name from five previous starts, and the field that finished behind him headed by Bold Edge could hardly be described as an all-star cast.
Yet this was a case of a horse finding his metier as Michael Kinane began to cut through the field with two furlongs remaining, hitting the front and bounding four lengths clear in what was a course record time. John Magnier said at the time: “Every day you go watching you hope something like this might happen. We have been to enough funerals with this horse so it's nice to go to the wedding.” There would be a second ceremony in the Nunthorpe and Stravinsky would sire top sprinters such as Benbaun and Soldier’s Tale.
OASIS DREAM (2003):
Champion European two-year-old and now an exceptional stallion, it should always be remembered what a fine effort it was from Oasis Dream to win the 2003 July Cup.
The Middle Park winner had faced a baptism of fire when reappearing in the King’s Stand Stakes, running commendably with a Group One penalty to finish third behind Choisir. It was that foe he faced once again on the July Course, the Australian having made history by backing up at Royal Ascot in the now-Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Oasis Dream and Richard Hughes wore down Johnny Murtagh’s mount approaching the final furlong and went a length and a half away, with the smart filly Airwave finishing third. The rest of Oasis Dream’s brief racing career was not perfect but he was to win the Nunthorpe in style and was only narrowly undone by softer ground in the Sprint Cup.
There is clearly the danger of recency bias and the July Cup was not his strongest performance but Muhaarar nonetheless enhanced his status as a pioneer of the new category of junior sprinters.
Charles Hills' colt was placed in a Middle Park and won the Greenham Stakes before he disappointed in the French Guineas. He was to win the inaugural Commonwealth Cup, ahead of a line-up as exciting as Caravaggio’s by striding almost four lengths clear of Limato. It was far harder work at Newmarket, with Paul Hanagan having to get vigorous some way out and his mount only poked his nose past Tropics on the line. Connections reported that the undulating course did not really suit Muhaarar and he was seen to better effect in the Prix Maurice de Gheest and finally at Ascot on Qipco British Champions Day.
Let Newmarket clerk of course Michael Prosser take you on a walk of the July Course in the video below
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