Newmarket's July meeting is part of a busy week of racing and Saturday's action looks top class, but there is so much racing to choose from it may be hard to keep up!
I used to go to the picturesque July course as a teenager and it was one of my favourite summer race meetings; the weather is generally kind and the racing superb.
Sadly, the 2012 summer is yet to materialise and that has made running plans for trainers very tough, with some of the quality horses staying at home in their boxes due to the unseasonably soft ground.
The three-day fixture starts on Thursday and the ground is expected to ride on the soft side of good but there are discrepancies in the various forecasts, so it's hard to say how testing the ground could be. That hasn't stopped Richard Hannon supplementing Strong Suit for the July Cup on Saturday, despite the colt preferring faster ground than he's likely to encounter at HQ.
Red Cadeaux is a leading contender; he's a smashing horse and continues to put in game efforts for Ed Dunlop.
Quotes of the week
Hannon says he will be fine on good ground so he'll be hoping some of the heavy showers hovering around the area miss the course. If it is on the soft side it won't suit Bated Breath, second in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, and he isn't a certain runner, but if the ground were to be decent he is the obvious choice for his in-form trainer Roger Charlton.
Ortensia is a horse I liked in the King's Stand, but she was disappointing there, but she has galloped on the July course this week and took to the track well so hopefully she can run a better race. I also like Society Rock, who was unlucky in the Diamond Jubilee when he missed the break and couldn't get into the race.
He eventually finished fifth behind Black Caviar and his trainer James Fanshawe was really disappointed. Ryan Moore has come in for the ride and I think they could get some compensation. He does seem to save his best for Ascot but I'm with him here with the former champ on board.
The main race on day one is the Group Two Princess of Wales's Stakes over a mile and a half. Red Cadeaux is a leading contender here; he's a smashing horse and continues to put in game efforts for Ed Dunlop. He gained a well-deserved success in the Yorkshire Cup in May and has run well in defeat in the Coronation Cup and the Hardwicke.
On that form he can go close and is my choice to win another decent race despite the fact he has a three pound penalty to carry in this. His season is being geared towards another tilt at the Melbourne Cup in November after his narrow defeat last year.
Richard Hannon has a good recent record in the July Stakes and he has two of the protagonists in this year's renewal. Sir Prancealot is a horse I tipped in the Coventry but he could only finish fourth there. Prior to that he was impressive in the National Stakes and I hope he's going to prove as good as that over six furlongs here.
Hannon's other representative is the Sheikh Hamdan-owned Alhebayeb; Paul Hanagan rides for his retained owner and this horse also has solid claims after decent efforts at Nottingham and Royal Ascot in the Windsor Castle, and the step up to six furlongs will suit him. Ahern is an interesting runner after his unlucky run in the Norfolk Stakes and I think Hannon can win this again. I hope it's with Sir Prancealot.
The Falmouth Stakes is the feature on Friday's card. Most people seem to agree that Andre Fabre's filly Golden Lilac will be hard to beat in this mile Group One; the filly is going to be a short price but I really fancy her chances.
It doesn't really matter what the weather does, I think Golden Lilac will handle conditions as she has form in France on testing ground. She has only been beaten once in her career when she was below par at Deauville last August and she beat Champion Stakes winner Cirrus Des Aigles in the Group One Prix D'Ispahan on her reappearance this season.
Maybe was last seen finishing a disappointing fifth in the Oaks as she missed the Coronation Stakes due to a stone bruise but she should appreciate the drop back to a mile. There will be a great reception if Chachamaidee wins for Sir Henry Cecil and she ran well to finish second in the Windsor Forest last time out. Lay Time could offer the each-way value for Andrew Balding.
She was beaten by the track at Epsom on her first run of the season and was then one place behind Chachamaidee at Ascot last time out. She seems a pretty big price at 14/1 taking that run into account and should be seen staying on strongly at the end.
The girls take centre stage on Friday and the leading juvenile race is the Group Two Cherry Hinton Stakes over six furlongs. Sendmylovetorose may look to have the perfect record being two from two, but she blotted her copybook big style when playing up in the stalls before the Albany at Royal Ascot and was withdrawn.
She redeemed herself in a Group Three at the Curragh two weeks ago and she will be fancied to maintain her unbeaten record for her Northern Irish based trainer Andrew Oliver.
Peter Chapple-Hyam's Agent Allison is another leading contender after her second in the Albany. He said after that run that seven furlongs will be more up her street so she should be staying on up the hill over six furlongs on the July course.
Back to Saturday then, and the Bunbury Cup gives us plenty to mull over at Newmarket. The seven-furlong handicap is ultra-competitive, although it seems leading ante-post fancy Cape Classic will miss the race for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, he needs 15 horses above him in the weights to come out in order to get in the race, and secondly, he doesn't like cut in the ground. With that in mind, I like the look of Jamesie and Excellent Guest.
The former has the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood as his main target, but his trainer David Marnane could run him here first. He ran well to be second in the Buckingham Palace at Royal Ascot (first in his group) and is just three pounds higher in the ratings here.
Excellent Guest is coming here off the back of a good effort at Royal Ascot. George Margarson's five-year-old was beaten by half a length by Prince of Johanne in the Hunt Cup, but will suit the drop back to seven furlongs here and was second in this race in 2011.
At York on Saturday there is another red-hot handicap, the John Smith's Cup over a mile and a quarter; the draw is quite important here as you don't want to be drawn too high. At the time of writing the final declarations hadn't been made, but I'd avoid horses drawn very high when we know who is coming out of which stall.
Luca Cumani is always a trainer to respect in these big handicaps although he is yet to win this. He has Danadana and Kirthill and both have chances. The soft ground wouldn't suit the former, though, and he won't run if it's too soft.
Kirthill ran well enough in the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot, but the horse who finished third in that is favourite for this. Mijhaar ran too keenly at Ascot but if he can settle he has a very good chance for trainer Roger Varian.
Area Fifty One is a horse I like if he gets a decent draw. There is no better trainer at York than Richard Fahey and this horse won nicely in a mile and a quarter handicap at Newmarket last time out.
Although that was faster ground, he seems effective on softer, so hopefully conditions will be fine for him. He is still improving and is at the top of his game. Media Hype is another horse I have on my shortlist, especially if the ground is softish on Saturday.
Elaine Burke trains this horse who was unsuited by faster ground at Newmarket behind Area Fifty One. He needs three horses to come out above him when the declarations are made, but I'd be hopeful that that's the case.
There is also a decent card at Newbury on Saturday and their highlight is the Weatherbys Super Sprint over five furlongs. The weight the juveniles carry in this valuable race is largely determined by their price at auction (not including the penalties they have to carry), so the less they cost, the lighter the weight. It usually pays to side with Hannon in these types of races and he has an outstanding record in them.
That's mainly because he buys so many yearlings, but is also the master at buying a lovely horse that doesn't cost the earth. He has numerous entries once again and the one of his I like is Maureen if she runs in this race. She has also been declared for the Cherry Hinton on Friday, but would only carry 8.2 here which gives her an outstanding chance of winning.
Although a win in the Cherry Hinton would do more for her paddock value, this is a very valuable race and providing she is as effective over five furlongs as she was six on her debut she could outclass the rest.
Sir Prancealot in the July Stakes
Red Cadeaux in the Princess of Wales's Stakes
Golden Lilac in the Falmouth Stakes @ Evs with Sky Bet
Lay Time in the Falmouth Stakes @ 14/1 (each way)
Sendmylovetorose in the Cherry Hinton Stakes
Society Rock in the July Cup @ 6/1 with Sky Bet
Excellent Guest in the Bunbury Cup @ 10/1 with Sky Bet
Area Fifty One in the John Smith's Cup @ 8/1 with Sky Bet (on good ground or faster)
Media Hype in the John Smith's Cup @ 10/1 with Sky Bet (on ground softer than good)
Maureen in the Weatherbys Super Sprint