Crunchsports.com's guide to the July Cup at Newmarket on Saturday afternoon (due off 15:20 BST) courtesy of Bettingpro.com tipster Ross Aylward...
A total of 15 horses have stood their ground for this afternoon's July Cup, the highlight of the July Festival at Newmarket.
Who is the favourite?
Bated Breath, runner-up to Dream Ahead in last year's race, has been an uneasy favourite (out to 7/2) with punters unwilling to part with their cash for a horse that was deemed unlikely to run on the account of the soft ground. However, his trainer Roger Charlton put any fears to rest by declaring the five-year-old at the 48-hour stage and unless the ground deteriorates further from the current 'soft', he looks certain to line-up.
On form alone, he thoroughly deserves his position at the head of the market as whilst his six subsequent starts have yielded just one victory - that coming over 5f on his reappearance at Haydock - he's suffered four agonising near misses at the highest level, with the latest coming in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, again over the minimum trip. With his best form last season coming over this trip of 6f, it would be no surprise to see him go one better this time.
Who are the main challengers?
Whilst Bated Breath has been drifting, Society Rock (8/1 into 5/1) has been going in the other direction with punters considering him to be the main danger on form and with no worries over the ground. It's hard to argue with that as the James Fanshawe-trained runner has shown himself well up to this level and might have beaten Black Caviar last time in the Diamond Jubilee had he not given himself too much to do by missing the break. The question is whether he can reproduce that form at Newmarket as his best runs have all come at Ascot, and it's worth noting he disappointed in this race in 2010 (seventh) having finished runner-up in the same Ascot race.
The only other horse quoted at a single figure price is Ortensia, who was strongly fancied for the King's Stand only to finish a disappointing ninth. Soft ground was put up as a possible excuse for that run so it's hard to imagine her running any better here against younger and more progressive rivals. A bigger danger, therefore, looks to be Wokingham winner Dandy Boy who recorded a faster time than Black Caviar managed 40 minutes earlier. He wouldn't be the first sprint handicapper to make a successful transition to Group 1 level, although the caveat is that all his wins have come at tracks very different to Newmarket.
Testing conditions could play into the hands of Strong Suit, who is running over 6f for the first time since finishing runner-up to Dream Ahead in the Middle Park Stakes here as a two-year-old. Since then he's been mainly campaigned over 7f and managed three wins over that distance last season, with arguably his best performance coming in the Challenge Stakes when thrashing the smart Chachamaidee by four and a half lengths. That prompted connections to run him in the Breeder's Cup Mile but he was firmly put in his place there and he was barely sighted behind Frankel in the Queen Anne on his reappearance. With the jury still out over whether he truly gets a mile, he looks well worth another crack over 6f and it bodes well that his shrewd connections have stumped up the supplementary fee.
Any decent outsiders?
The last 10 renewals have produced a mixed bag for punters with two winning favourites and five winners at double-figure odds, but nothing bigger than 22/1. Of those priced between 10/1 and 20/1, Godolphin's Sepoy is the most interesting as he was a winning machine in Group 1 company in Australia (won 10 of 13 starts), but has disappointed on his two runs in the northern hemisphere. This is his last run before retiring to stud.
Sirius Prospect was a smart handicapper last season but has been found wanting since making the transition to Pattern class, and a bigger threat looks to be Krypton Factor who proved a revelation on the artificial surface at Meydan, with his three victories culminating in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (6f). He's yet to reproduce that form in two runs on grass, however.
What's the verdict?
Much as though I'd like to see Bated Breath get the Group 1 victory he deserves, he will not have the fast ground he needs to operate at his very best and he may again have to settle for a place. I still think he will do best of those who have been running over sprint trips, but Newmarket provides a stiff test for a sprinter and several recent winners were dropping back in distance, which makes me think STRONG SUIT could be the answer. He's a much stronger horse than when finishing second in the Middle Park and the winner Dream Ahead had no problem dropping back from a mile when landing this race 12 months ago. A low draw in stall two was a key factor in that success, and the selection will exit from the same stall this afternoon.