The Newmarket July Festival never disappoints and once again served up a treat in 2023, with each of the three days providing something to savour. Here we pick out our top five displays from a cracking three days of action.
5. Quinault – Bet365 Handicap
He may not top the ratings tree, but for sheer doggedness and will to win, we couldn’t leave Quinault out of our top five. What makes the performances of one of the most improved handicappers of the season all the more remarkable, is that his winning sequence – which now stands at six – was almost impossible to predict from his first three runs.
Last of seven on debut for Charlie Appleby, he was promptly sent for a gelding operation before being shipped out to the yard of Stuart Williams. Beaten a combined 18½l in his first two starts for his new trainer, even a single win didn’t appear to be in his immediate future. However, the triple salvo of a mini-break, step up to 6f, and switch to handicapping company resulted in a horse reborn.
Kicking things off with a Chelmsford success off a lowly mark of 59, he followed up at Brighton, Newmarket (twice), and York, to arrive at the July Festival with a mark of 90. He may not have won by far, but showed admirable battling qualities to get his flared nostril in front. Now up to a rating of 97, he may not be done quite yet.
4. Nashwa – Falmouth Stakes
This time last year, the John & Thady Gosden-trained Nashwa was rightly being lauded as one of the most talented and consistent fillies in training, on the back of a Classic campaign which featured a third in the Epsom Oaks, and Group 1 wins in the Prix de Diane and Nassau Stakes. A subsequent run of three successive defeats – two of which came at odds-on – was therefore bitterly disappointing for connections, not to mention punters.
However, John Gosden kept the faith, opting to drop the filly back to 1m for this assignment. What followed was a fine advertisement of the phrase, “form is temporary, but class is permanent”, as Nashwa put a quality field to the sword in devastating style. All of the top mile contests now look to be on the cards, with a tilt at the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and a defence of her Nassau Stakes title possibly on the immediate agenda.
3. Nostrum – Sir Henry Cecil Stakes
Having achieved many of his most memorable moments at HQ, it was only fitting that Sir Henry Cecil should have a race named in his honour, and it came in the shape of this Listed class 1m affair for the three-year-olds. Whilst not quite the headline act on the opening day, the race was nevertheless hugely anticipated due to the reappearance of one of the most promising juveniles from last season – the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Nostrum.
Winning two or his three starts as a two-year-old, the only horses to finish ahead of him were Chaldean and Royal Scotsman, who subsequently finished 1st and 3rd in the 2000 Guineas. Hopes were therefore understandably high for this son of Kingman, particularly given his trainer’s reputation for improving horses as they age. Sent off at odds of just 11/10, the market suggested that a big run was in the offing, and Nostrum duly delivered. Immediately slashed in price for the Sussex Stakes, a potential clash with Paddington certainly whets the appetite. However, given the quick turnaround to Goodwood, a trip to France for the Prix Jacques le Marois may be a more likely target.
2. City Of Troy – Superlative Stakes
With the recent passing of Galileo, team Ballydoyle have been forced to seek new pathways with their breeding operation, and are increasingly turning to the top US sires to cross with their squadron of Galileo mares. One result of such a liaison is the Justify colt, City Of Troy.
By a sire who earned a permanent place in the history books by landing the US Triple Crown in 2018, and out of the Group 1 winning mare Together Forever, City of Troy certainly makes plenty of appeal on paper. Moreover, he passed his first test with flying colours when pulling clear to land his maiden at the Curragh.
It was anticipated that his next assignment in this 7f Group 2 event would prove significantly tougher, with a number of similarly well-bred sorts from the top yards amongst the opposition. City Of Troy was, however, backed as though defeat was out of the question in the lead-up to the race, and the boys from Ballydoyle rarely get it wrong when the money is down. Nevertheless, the performance which followed was breathtaking considering his relative inexperience. As impressive on the clock as it was visually, the sky looks to be the limit for City Of Troy, who is the new 5/2 favourite for the 2024 edition of the 2000 Guineas.
1. Shaquille – July Cup
Top spot belongs to the unheralded horse who has cut a swathe through the sprinting division in 2023. Hailing from the small North Yorkshire yard of Julie Camacho, Shaquille had shown plenty of promise in winning three of his four starts at two, with the only defeat coming when looking out of his depth in the Acomb Stakes. However, it seems that Camacho knew what Shaquille had in the locker in going for that Group 3 contest so soon, and her high opinion of the horse has been fully vindicated this season to say the least.
Way too good for the opposition in a Class 2 handicap and a Listed event at Newbury, Shaquille then stormed home in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup, despite giving his rivals a head start at the stalls. The main concern heading into the July Cup was that he may struggle if blowing the start again, particularly as he now faced not only the best of the three-year-olds but also a selection of the speediest older sprinters in the game. In the end, Shaquille did indeed make a mess of the start, but it mattered not one bit, as he repeated his Ascot display to run them all down with something to spare.