The July Festival is one of the highlights of the racing world. It includes some of the best horses and with it, some of the most competitive races over the flat. The Festival is more than just about the horses though, with glitz and glamour oozing, it’s very much one of the high society’s social events as well.
The meeting is held at Newmarket Racecourse on their July course as opposed to the earlier Guineas meeting on the Rowley Mile course.
It’s held over three days, from Thursday through to Saturday, with two of the days hosting one a Group 1 race. These come in the form of the Falmouth Stakes and the star race of the meeting, the six furlong July Cup sprint.
Newmarket July Meeting Major Races
This summer is already taking shape when racing at Newmarket switches to their July course. For fans of equine action, the summer months are really all about the abundance of quality racing festivals on offer.
Here we have another such betting extravaganza for our viewing and punting pleasure, as we head to Suffolk for the Newmarket July Meeting. The speedballs may take centre stage in the meeting’s biggest race of the July Cup, but there’s plenty more on offer besides and here we have the racing highlights on each of the three days.
|Day||Race||Grade / Length||Last Winner|
|Thursday||Princess Of Wales’s Stakes||Group 2 / 1m 4f||Israr (2023)|
|Friday||Falmouth Stakes||Group 1 / 1m||Nashwa (2023)|
|Friday||Duchess Of Cambridge Stakes||Group 2 / 6f||Persian Dreamer (2023)|
|Saturday||July Cup Stakes||Group 1 / 6f||Shaquille (2023)|
|Saturday||Bunbury Cup||Class 2 / 7f||Biggles (2023)|
The July Course at Newmarket
There are two main courses at Newmarket racecourse, the July Course and The Rowley Mile. For the July Festival, they do all their racing on the July Course. Both of the tracks are wide, which means that horses and jockeys tend to take different lines for each race.
The courses are actually quite different, although both measure over 2 miles. The July course includes a 1m straight and has quite a few undulations throughout. Those that know horse racing will know that even minor undulations can throw off even the best trained horses, which often makes for interesting viewing.
In the run up to the finishing post the horses go through a dip, heading downhill with the penultimate furlong, pulling uphill for the final furlong. The uphill nature of the finish will extract the last bit of stamina from a horse and often favours horses that stay well, rather than those that are simply built for out and out speed.
Group 1 Races
There are two Group 1 races at Newmarket during July Festival. The July Cup which runs on the Saturday is not only the most important race of the meeting but one of the key six furlong sprints anywhere in the world. The other Group 1 comes in the shape of the Falmouth Stakes, a one mile contest for fillies and mares which takes place on the Friday.
The July Cup is the highlight of the festival for most. It’s held over just 6f and is one of the fastest races over the course of the festival. The Group 1 race is open to horses aged 3 years and over and have been running since 1876. In fact, the race is held in such high esteem that the winner of the race is often crowned the Champion Sprinter of Europe, although this is technically unofficial.
In 2008, the July Cup was added to the Global Sprint Challenge. This included 10 races around the world and the best sprinter is often thought as the horse that’s performed the best in as many of these races as possible. Other races included the Platinum Jubilee Stakes (Royal Ascot) and the Sprinters Stakes (Nakayama, Japan). The winning horse for the year received a $1,000,000 bonus, though the series is currently on hold.
There is currently only one more valuable six furlong sprint held in the UK. This is the Platinum Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
Most Valuable UK 6f Sprint Races
|Platinum Jubilee Stakes||£1,000,000 (2022)||Royal Ascot||Group 1|
|July Cup||£628,500 (2022)||Newmarket||Group 1|
|British Champions Sprint Stakes||£500,000 (2022)||Ascot||Group 1|
|Commonwealth Cup||£500,000 (2022)||Royal Ascot||Group 1|
|Sprint Cup Stakes||£350,000 (2022)||Haydock Park||Group 1|
|Cheveley Park Stakes||£291,580 (2022)||Newmarket||Group 1|
|Middle Park Stakes||£275,000 (2022)||Newmarket||Group 1|
|Stewards Cup||£250,000 (2022)||Goodwood||Handicap|
|Lowther Stakes||£250,000 (2022)||York||Group 2|
|Gimcrack Stakes||£250,000 (2022)||York||Group 2|
|Richmond Stakes||£150,000 (2022)||Goodwood||Group 2|
|Ayr Gold Cup||£150,000 (2022)||Ayr||Handicap|
In recent years with the July Cup there has been a real mix of winners, with no one trainer/jockey combination really asserting their dominance. Aidan O’Brien has probably been the most successful trainer of late, with wins three wins in the last 12 years. In 2010 O’Brien won with Starspangledbanner, 2018 with U S Navy Flag and 2019 with Ten Sovereigns
In terms of jockey’s the multiple winners over the last decade or so have been Ryan Moore who has teamed up with Aidan O’Brien for his two most recent winners, Adam Kirby in 2013 with Lethal Force and 2017 on Harry Angel, and Paul Hanagan, wining on Muhaarar in 2015 and Mayson in 2012.
Three and four year old horses are often tough to beat around the track, with just one horse aged 6 or above winning recently called Les Arcs in 2006.
If we rewind the tape a little, Lester Piggott is the most successful jockey in the Cup’s history, winning on ne fewer than 10 separate occasions, ranging from 1957 through to 1992. Three trainers are currently tied with most wins at the race, Aidan O’Brien, Charles Morton and Vincent O’Brien with 5 wins a piece.
For more information on the history of July Cup including past winners, click here.
The other Group 1 race, held on the Friday of the festival, is that of the Falmouth Stakes. A 1 mile in distance race, it attracts some of the best fillies and mares in the country, all aged 3-year-old and up. With £250,000 on offer in 2022, it’s also the second most valuable race at the festival, behind only the July Cup.
Much like the July Cup, there is one trends to take note of which is down to the relationship between Ryan Moore and Aiden O’Brien. The pair won successive Falmouth Stakes on Alice Springs in 2016 and Roly Poly in 2017.
Interestingly, the race has only twice been won by a horse aged 5 or older in modern times; first in 2001 with Proudwings and then again in 2004, when Soviet Song had back to back wins. Whilst the July Cup is the highest rated of the two, it could be argued that the Falmouth Stakes has seen more of the greats. Horses such as Goldikova, Soviet Song and Sonic Lady have won this contest, to name just a few.
One fact consistent with the July Cup is that the most successful jockey in the race comes in the form of Lester Piggott. He managed to win a record 7 times throughout his career from 1957 through to 1994.
You can find more on the Falmouth Stakes here.
Group 2 & 3 Races
There are 21 races in total over the three days of racing during the July Festival. Outside of the feature Group 1s and the Bunbury Cup handicap, there’s also four Group 2 races and a Group 3 Race. This Group 3 comes in the form of the opening race of the festival, The Bahrain Trophy Stakes, which with £200,000 to be won (2022) is the third most valuable race of the meeting.
Bahrain Trophy (1m 5f, Group 3)
The Bahrain Trophy comes with a higher prize fund than all of the Group 2 races, currently set at £200,000. It’s open to 3-year-old horses and is run over a distance of 1m 5f. It’s an important race at the July Festival due to the fact that it actually normally opens the festival on the Thursday, though was race two on the card in 2022. It’s importance comes from the fact that many horses that do well here are often put forward for the St Leger, the last of the Classic flat races.
July Stakes (6f, Group 2)
The July Stakes is almost the little brother to the July Cup, running over the same distance of 6f, but is targeted towards 2-year-old and up colts and geldings. It’s seen as a great stepping stone to the feature race and many horses that have done well in this race have gone on to do well in the July Cup also. The race is one of the oldest at the festival originally being run in 1786 and come with a prize fund of £100,000.
Princess of Wales’s Stakes (1m 4f, Group 2)
A race to honour that of Alexandra of Denmark, who became Princess of Wales in 1863, this 1m 4f race takes up all of the July Festival course. Its right handed turn that needs to be negotiated is tougher than many think and as a result, some of the best three-year-old horses have seen success here. With £115,000 up for grabs, the race is another major attraction at the event. More can be found on this race here.
Duchess Of Cambridge Stakes (6f, Group 2)
The Duchess of Cambridge Stakes is one of the most important 6f races of the year. It’s often a great early indication to see which horses might do well in the 1,000 Guineas the following season, with several winning this and then going on to win one of flat racing major races.
At 6f and open to two-year-old fillies only, it’s a fairly unique race, but a great way to see the future potential over this distance. Prizemoney currently sits at £100,000. More on the Duchess Of Cambridge Stakes can be found here.
Superlative Stakes (7f, Group 2)
The Superlative Stakes is run over 7f and is another Group 2 race that has great significance. It’s open to 2 year olds only and with it some of the stars of the future have raced. Past winners have included Dubawi, Olympic glory and Commander Collins, to name but a few. This prize fund is also set at £100,000.
The July Festival has a number of valuable handicaps across the three days of racing. Day one has the £100,000 bet365 Handicap over six furlongs. Day two brings another bet365 handicap over a mile and a quarter worth £100,000 plus the bet365 Trophy, a Heritage Handicap also worth £100,000, over the staying trip of one mile and six furlongs. The bet365 Mile handicap weighs in at £50,000 on the final day but is outshone by one of the most popular races of the entire fixture, the Bunbury Cup.
The Bunbury Cup is one of the most hotly contested flat handicap races of the year. Run over 7f, this is one for the sprinters and has seen some big names win it since it started life in 1962. Jockeys that have seen success in the race over the last decade or so include the likes of Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore and Adam Kirby.
No trainer has won it more than the trio of Richard Fahey, James Bethell and Michael Jarvis who all have three wins to their names. Interestingly, since 2004, only two favourites have won the race, with the longest price winners coming in at 25/1 in the form of Material Witness in 2004 and Bless Him in 2022. More information on the Bunbury Cup can be found here.
Racing at Newmarket dates back to around 1667 when it was officially opened. But, it’s reported that racing took place within the town even before that, namely under the rule of James I. It was Charles II who were frequenting the town with James II and it’s stated that the first ever race was between horses owned by Lord Salisbury and Marquees of Bucking in 1622, with a prize of £100 up for grabs.
But, it was Charles II who took the reins to really kick on horse racing within Newmarket and from there started the Newmarket Town Plate. In fact, Charles II is still the only monarch to have ever rode a winner at Newmarket.
The July meeting was started until 1765, where it took place over a couple of days in July. As the popularity of the meeting grew as did prize money and the calibre of racing on offer. The two longest standing races are the July Cup and the July Stakes.
The July Stakes was first run in 1786, which actually makes it one of the oldest horse races still in existence in the UK. In fact, it’s the oldest horse race in the world exclusively for two year olds. The July Stakes was upgraded from Group 3 to Group 2 status in 2003 and is now widely regarded as one of the most important races at the meeting.
The July Cup didn’t arrive until 1876, some 90 years later. Queen Victoria was the owner of the first ever race, with Springfield who was trained at the Hampton Court Stud. The Group 1 race is now one of the most valuable and prestigious sprint races in the UK, offering up a huge prize pool of £628,500 in 2022, with over £350,000 going to the winner.
Sir Charles Bunbury
Sir Charles Bunbury will go down as one of the real legends of the sport of horse racing and one of the main driving factors as to why the sport is so popular today. He was elected in 1768 as the senior steward to the Jockey Club and widely regarded as one of the great “Dictators of Turf”.
Whilst many of you may not have heard of him, it could have been very different when a coin toss with Lord Derby at the time decided the outcome of who’s name would take on the mantle as one of the biggest races in the world, The Derby. It could have so easily been called the Bunbury Stakes, totally changing the course of history, such was his importance.
The Newmarket July Festival saw fit to name the Bunbury Cup after him to honour his work within and dedication to the sport over the years.
Newmarket Town Plate
The Newmarket Town Plate has been running since 1666 thanks to that of King Charles II. He extended the Round Course and this is where and the only race that is run on the track for the festival. The race is run prior to that of the July Festival and often seen as the curtain raiser for most. At 3 mile 6 furlongs long, it’s also one of the longest flat races in the UK.