After the belated renewals of the Epsom Derby (G1) and Epsom Oaks (G1) last weekend, the British racing calendar has basically “caught up” in the span of five weeks after the flat season was suspended from late March through May due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But before everyone can collect their breath with a mid-July breather, Newmarket stages their annual three-day July Festival Thursday through Saturday this week. Although a meet that doesn’t quite attract the star power, and relies less on the frippery, of meets like Epsom, Royal Ascot, and Goodwood, the group stakes offerings on Newmarket’s July Course are still intriguing from a sporting perspective and often yield some solid punting opportunities.
First post for Thursday’s card is an early 7:10 a.m. ET, but the major stakes action is on the back end of the card with the first group event at 9:25 a.m.
Race 5 — Bahrain Trophy (G3) — 9:25 a.m.
This St Leger (G1) prep looks a good bounce-back opportunity for #2 AL DABARAN (3-1), who was probably in need of a race when 11 lengths third in the Queen’s Vase (G2) at Royal Ascot. Unraced since September, he was beaten that day by Santiago, who followed up the next week with a victory in the Irish Derby (G1), while runner-up Berkshire Rocco had had the benefit of an earlier run when second to English King in the Lingfield Derby Trial.
A winner on debut over the July Course last summer, Al Dabaran is out of a half-sister to 2011 Bahrain Trophy and St Leger winner Masked Marvel.
Race 6 — July Stakes (G2) — 10 a.m.
Offspring of Kodiac made a highly favorable impression in Royal Ascot’s juvenile features. One that didn’t win, but who ran well nonetheless in the Windsor Castle, was #10 YAZAMAN (6-1), who had to weave his way through traffic in a congested field to finish 1 1/4 lengths second to The Queen’s #8 Tactical.
Also a son of Kodiac, Tactical is favored to repeat in this 6-furlong heat after getting a clearer run up the stands side rail at Ascot. However, Yazaman might benefit from the additional furlong in this rematch, especially if he can rate closer to the pace.
Race 8 — Princess of Wales’s Stakes (G2) — 11:10 a.m.
He was eighth, beaten 10 lengths, in the Hardwicke (G2) last out, but we already knew #2 COMMUNIQUE (6-1) was not a fan of the 12-furlong trip at Ascot having trailed a field of eight by 21 lengths in the same race 12 months earlier.
One thing we do know is that when Communique does show up, it’s typically at Newmarket. He bounced back from that 21-length drubbing in the 2019 Hardwicke with a stalk-and-pounce, 1 3/4-length triumph in this event and looms a threat to pull off the repeat with the same tactics if #4 Forest Ranger plays the role of pacesetter early.
Communique was a decent fifth to Dashing Willoughby (who captured last weekend’s Henry II [G3] at Sandown) in the Buckhounds S. in his season debut, and so far that’s proved to be his only loss on either Newmarket course in five starts.
Granted, this edition of the Princess of Wales’s appears deeper this time with the presence of John Gosden’s exciting staying filly #8 Embihaar and the seemingly-improved #1 Alounak, but fondness for the course could get Communique over the line for another minor upset.