Newmarket July Festival
Home to Britain’s largest concentration of racehorses and training establishments, in addition to the National Horseracing Museum, Newmarket is regarded as the headquarters of the British flat racing game.
In addition to all of the above, the West Suffolk town also boasts an outstanding racecourse which plays host to several top-class fixtures throughout the season.
The Guineas Festival of late April/early May might be the most famous fixture at the track, but it is not the only multi-day meeting to take place at the course.
Later in the year, the three-day July Festival lights up the midsummer months, as the punters flock to the track in their droves to witness some of the most talented horses in training in the flesh.
Here we take a closer look at this fabulous fixture, including a rundown of the biggest races, some betting pointers, and a brief history of the event.
July Festival – Main Races
Day One – Ladies Day
Princess Of Wales’s Stakes – Group 2 – 1m4f
Day One sees the ladies of Newmarket descend on the track in all their finery for the ever-popular Ladies Day. Turning to the action on the track, the card is lit up by a trio of excellent Group class events, with this mile-and-a-half contest for runners aged three and older being the pick of the bunch.
Established in 1894, the race is named in honour of Alexandra of Denmark who gained the title of Princess of Wales in 1863. Initially held over a distance of a mile, that inaugural 1894 edition was landed by the legendary Isinglass, who had claimed Triple Crown glory in 1893. A Group 2 event since 1978, the race invariably provides an intriguing clash of the generations, with previous winners including the fan-favourite Big Orange, and St Leger hero Millenary.
July Stakes – Group 2 – 6f
The second Group 2 on the opening day comes in the shape of this truly historic juvenile event. First run in 1786, the July Stakes is in fact the oldest surviving race for two year olds of the entire British season. Held over a distance of six furlongs, this sprint event was previously open to all, but has been restricted to colts and geldings since 1977.
Standout winners in this race include Green Desert who went on to land the July Cup at this meeting the following year, Shalaa who grabbed Group 1 success in the Middle Park Stakes and Advertise who did likewise in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.
Bahrain Trophy – Group 3 – 1m5f
Originally titled the H & K Commissions Handicap, this race made its debut under its current name in 1991 and was promoted to Group 3 status in 2009. One of the longer contests at the festival, the race is restricted to three year olds and regularly attracts a field of St Leger hopefuls.
Of the previous winners, only Masked Marvel (2011) has gone on to Classic glory at Doncaster, but plenty of other winners have experienced subsequent success elsewhere. The hugely popular Persian Punch (1996) went on to win three Jockey Club Cups, two Lonsdale Cups, two Goodwood Cups and a Doncaster Cup during a glittering career, whilst Yibir (2021) claimed the Breeders’ Cup Turf and the Princess of Wales’s Stakes at this meeting in 2022.
Day Two – Festival Friday
Falmouth Stakes – Group 1– 1m
The first of the meeting’s Group 1 contests provides the headline act on Day Two. Open to fillies and mares aged three years and older, this contest over a mile sees a fascinating clash of the generations as the Classic generation tackles their elders.
Named in honour of the 6th Viscount Falmouth, Evelyn Boscawen, the race has been a Group 1 event since 2004 and invariably attracts a top-class field, including runners to have previously lined up in the 1,000 Guineas here in May. Standout winners include two-time champ, Soviet Song, French superstar Goldikova, and Irish 1,000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes heroine Alpha Centauri.
Duchess Of Cambridge Stakes – Group 2 – 6f
Formerly known as the Cherry Hinton Stakes, this contest was renamed in honour of the new Duchess of Cambridge in 2013. Held over the six-furlong trip and restricted to juvenile fillies, the race is the female equivalent of the July Stakes on the opening day.
Whereas the future record of July Stakes winners is a little mixed, this race does regularly throw up a top-class performer. Diminuendo (1987) went on to win both the English and Irish Oaks, Attraction (2003) claimed success in both versions of the 1,000 Guineas, and Arabian Queen (2014) grabbed Group 1 Glory in the Juddmonte International.
Day Three – July Cup Day
July Cup Stakes – Group 1– 1m
The top-class action continues on the closing Saturday of the meeting, with the clear standout being this exceptional sprint contest. Open to runners aged three and older, the July Cup is widely respected as one of the most prestigious events held anywhere in the world over six furlongs.
A fixture on the Newmarket calendar ever since making its debut back in 1876, the list of previous winners here reads like a roll call of the sprinting greats. Diadem, Abernant, Right Boy, Mozart, Oasis Dream, Starspangledbanner, Muhaarar and Harry Angel are just a selection of the legendary names to turn on the style in this event.
Superlative Stakes – Group 2 – 7f
One of the many attractions of the July Festival is the healthy number of quality juvenile contests on offer. The pick of such events on Day 3 is this race held over the specialist’s trip of seven furlongs.
Named in honour of the 1983 winner of the July Stakes, the race has steadily increased in quality over the years, being elevated to Group 2 status for the first time in 2006. Native Trail and Olympic Glory both took this prize en route to being crowned Champion Two Year Old, whilst in 2004 the race was won by a horse who would go on to become one of the greatest stallions of the modern era: Dubawi.
Bunbury Cup – Handicap – 7f
The Saturday card also features one of the most popular betting handicaps of the meeting, as a field of runners aged three years and older do battle over the seven-furlong course.
Named in honour of Sir Charles Bunbury who paid a pivotal role in the creation of the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, the race rarely fails to attract a maximum field, making for a fiendishly competitive affair. That competitive nature makes the achievements of the James Bethell trained Mine all the more remarkable. First successful in the race in 2002, he was beaten by just a short head in 2003, then missed the race in 2004, before returning to win back-to-back editions in 2005 and 2006.
July Festival – Betting Pointers
Newmarket has two racecourses which it utilises at various stages of the season: the Rowley Mile Course and the July Course. No surprise that this meeting takes place entirely on the latter. Closely resembling an L-shape, all events at up to a mile take place on the straight course, whilst those of 1m2f and further feature one right-handed bend. Over the longer distances, look for a runner with a low draw who has the ability to break quickly and grab the inside rail moving around the bend.
The major feature of the final straight mile of the track is that the ground climbs almost all the way to the line. With that in mind, one of the first things to look for when assessing the contenders is a proven ability to truly see out the trip; any stamina limitations tend to be ruthlessly exposed in the closing stages.
One of the fairest tracks in the land from a pace perspective, both front runners and hold-up contenders can go well here, whilst the wide expansive nature of the track means that hard luck stories are few and far between.
Given the course characteristics, Newmarket tends to be well suited to the long-striding galloper. Such animals can really open up in the extensive straight section, making it tough for the smaller, nippier types to keep pace.
Other trends and factors worth considering when picking out those bets include:
- Mark Johnston and Sir Michael Stoute each boast an excellent record in the Princess of Wales’s Stakes.
- Three year old runners have the best record in the Falmouth Stakes. Between 1979 and 2022, the race fell to a runner aged five or older on only two occasions.
- Four and five year olds hold the edge in the Bunbury Cup, with three year olds and those older than six only rarely entering the winner’s enclosure.
- Middle drawn runners are at a disadvantage in six-furlong events.
- Those drawn high boast the best record in seven-furlong contests on the July Course.
July Festival – A Brief History
There are few more historic racecourses in the world than that of Newmarket; the first recorded race in the area took place a mere 400 years ago in 1622, with the course itself then being established in 1636.
It was however over 100 years later, in 1765, that the July Festival first made an appearance on the Newmarket calendar. The exact makeup of that inaugural event seems to have been lost to the sands of time, but it is safe to say it looked rather different to the meeting so beloved by modern flat racing fans – of the eight major contests outlined above, not one took place at the first-ever edition.
There are however several races which have featured as part of the meeting for over 100 years. Oldest of all is the July Stakes which made its debut in 1786 and displayed a strong bird theme in the early years – three of the first four editions being won by horses by the names of Bullfinch, Seagull, and Ostrich.
Next to enter the fray was the meeting’s signature event of the July Cup which took place for the first time in 1876. That inaugural edition provided cause for royal celebration, with the winner Springfield – who followed up in 1877 – having been bred by Queen Victoria.
18 years later, in 1894, the regally titled Princess of Wales’s Stakes was added to the mix. Initially taking place over a mile, the race quickly became one of the most prestigious of the season. Increased in distance to 1m4f in 1902, the event doesn’t hold quite the same gravitas these days but maintains a prominent position in the summertime Group race programme.
One race which has increased in profile over the years is that of the Falmouth Stakes. Appearing for the first time in 1911, the race was initially handed Group 3 status upon the introduction of the classification system in 1971, but by 2004 had become one of the most coveted Group 1 events of the season for the fillies and mares.
Given his prominent role in establishing Newmarket as one of the UK’s Premier Racecourses, it is a little surprising that Sir Charles Bunbury had to wait until 1962 to have a race named in his honour – the year in which the Bunbury Cup handicap made its debut. Better late than never, eh Charles?
1986 then saw the debut of the Superlative Stakes. Originally titled the Bernard van Cutsem Stakes, in honour of the successful trainer, the contest provided a much-needed late-season target for those juveniles with a dose of both speed and stamina.
As of 2022, the most recent addition to the meetings Group class offering came with the inaugural running of the Bahrain Stakes in 1990. Going under the moniker of the H & K Commissions Handicap in its debut year, the race gained its current title in 1991 – the same year in which it gained Listed status, before being made a Group 3 event in 2009.
Offering a target for high-class operators of all ages and distance preferences, this historic meeting seems likely to maintain its status as one of Newmarket’s most popular events for many years to come.