Newmarket’s July Cup, the centrepiece of the three-day Champagne Lanson July Festival, is one of the most valuable sprints in the European racing calendar, with the 2010 running worth £400,000. For the third year, the Darley July Cup is part of the Global Sprint Challenge.
Sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stud since 1996, the Group One event, run over six furlongs on the famous July Course, is widely acknowledged as the sprint championship of Europe.
In the last 33 years, 24 winners of the Darley July Cup have gone on to be crowned Europe’s top sprinter in the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings (previously International Classifications), including 2008 scorer Marchand D’Or, with a rating of 121.
Springfield, bred by Queen Victoria at Hampton Court Stud, took the inaugural running in 1876, and followed up a year later to become the first dual winner. Unusually, Springfield also proved top-class over middle distances, landing the Champion Stakes over 10 furlongs in 1877.
Other outstanding victors in the early years included Sundridge, successful in 1902, 1903 and 1904 – the only triple winner in the history of the race. The son of Amphion was a true rags to riches story, having graduated from selling company. He was also a great success at stud, becoming a highly influential sire in Europe and North America.
The great mare Diadem added to her victory in the 1917 1000 Guineas by scoring in 1919 and 1920. Diomedes, a grandson of Sundridge, recorded a brace of victories in 1925 and 1926, on the latter occasion dead-heating with Phalaros, while flying grey Abernant landed the spoils in 1949 and 1950.
Another dual winner was Right Boy, triumphant in 1958 and 1959. The son of Impeccable, purchased for 575 guineas by his trainer Bill Dutton – the winning rider on 1928 Grand National victor Tipperary Tim – also landed the Nunthorpe Stakes twice, the King George Stakes twice, the Cork & Orrery Stakes (now the Golden Jubilee Stakes) twice and the King’s Stand Stakes.
In the 1970s, the Darley July Cup was dominated by the formidable trainer/jockey partnership of the late Vincent O’Brien and Lester Piggott. They hit the bullseye four times during the decade, kicking off with Thatch in 1973, followed by Saritamer (1974), Solinus (1978) and Thatching (1979).
Piggott continued his excellent form into the next decade, securing the 1980 renewal aboard Moorestyle. This kick-started an outstanding period for the July Cup, with the next five winners – Marwell (1981), Sharpo (1982), Habibti (1983), Chief Singer (1984) and Never So Bold (1985) – all rated as the best sprinter in Europe in their year.
Moorestyle was also the champion three-year-old of his generation, while Chief Singer’s rating of 132 is the joint-highest ever achieved by a Darley July Cup winner, a distinction he shares with Thatching.
The last three years of the 1980s also saw the winner crowned European champion sprinter, in the form of Ajdal (1987), Soviet Star (1988) and Cadeaux Genereux (1989). The last-named beat Coronation Stakes heroine Golden Opinion by a head, with Danehill, later a huge success as a stallion, two and a half lengths away in third.
The 1986 scorer Green Desert was equally capable over longer trips, previously finding only Dancing Brave too strong in the 2000 Guineas, while in 1990, the Vincent O’Brien-trained Royal Academy captured both the Darley July Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Belmont Park.
The 1990s saw two big upsets in the Darley July Cup. Hamas, a 33/1 shot, triumphed under Willie Carson in 1993, getting the better of favourite College Chapel to deny Lester Piggott an 11th success in the event, while Compton Place shocked punters when landing the prize at 50/1 under Seb Sanders four years later.
The stallion Danzig has had a big influence on the Darley July Cup. The son of Northern Dancer sired no less than six winners of the Newmarket race – Green Desert (1986), Polish Patriot (1991), Hamas (1993), Anabaa (1996), Elnadim (1998) and Agnes World (2000), while Owington (1994), Mozart (2001) and Oasis Dream (2003) were all sired by sons of Danzig and last year’s winner, Fleeting Spirit, is by Green Desert’s son Invincible Spirit.
Agnes World holds the distinction of being the first ever Japanese-trained winner in Britain when taking the 2000 Darley July Cup. Trained by Hideyuki Mori and ridden by ace Japanese jockey Yutaka Take, he prevailed in a thrilling finish by a short-head from Lincoln Dancer with another short-head back to Pipalong in third.
The 2003 renewal was also an international affair with star Australian sprinter Choisir, who had won both the King’s Stand Stakes and the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot the previous month, finding only Oasis Dream a length and a half too good. Oasis Dream was another Darley July Cup hero to also be crowned champion European sprinter.
The mare Frizzante was successful in 2004, coming home a neck ahead of Ashdown Express in another exciting finish, while the 2005 contest was dominated by longer priced horses, with 22/1 shot Pastoral Pursuits holding off 40/1 chances Avonbridge and Etlaala. The Hughie Morrison-trained Pastoral Pursuits was joint European sprint champion that season.
The 2006 Darley July Cup produced another cracking climax as the vastly-improved Les Arcs held off the fast-finishing Iffraaj to get the verdict by a head. Les Arcs was landing a second Group One prize for trainer Tim Pitt in only his first full year with a training licence, having previously captured the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Hughie Morrison recorded his second victory in three years when the Steve Drowne-ridden Sakhee’s Secret quickened impressively to score by half a length over Dutch Art in 2007. Owned and bred by Bridget Swire, Sakhee’s Secret was also crowned champion European sprinter.
The grey Marchand D’Or and trainer Freddie Head carried the spoils across the English Channel in 2008 for the first time since his sister, Criquette Head-Maarek, triumphed with Anabaa in 1996. The gelding flew late to clinch victory by a head from US Ranger and was crowned champion European sprinter after further triumphs in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (becoming the first horse to win that race three times) and Prix de l’Abbaye. In 2009, the flying filly Fleeting Spirit landed the spoils for trainer Jeremy Noseda and jockey Tom Queally.
Pictured: Frankie and Saeed bin Suroor had a pretty successful meeting in 2009 for boss Sheikh Mohammed, who also owns July Cup Day sponsors the Darley Stud.