Newmarket: Spot Plays for July Festival on Thursday

July 12th, 2023

It lacks the prestige of some of England's other major fixtures, but this week's three-day July Festival at Newmarket, which runs from Thursday through Saturday, remains one of my personal favorites.

Unfortunately, smallish fields are prominent in most of the Group stakes scheduled on the first two days. A case in point is Thursday's Princess of Wales's (G2) over 1 1/2 miles, in which 2021 Epsom Derby (G1) winner Adayar is the most likely winner against a mere three rivals.

This not to say there aren't attractive candidates at reasonable prices in the other pattern features. Here are a couple I'll be looking at prior to the Princess of Wales's.

Race 1: Bahrain Trophy (G3), 8:50 a.m. ET

Team Godolphin has been mired in a cold streak this season, so I'm slightly hesitant about gravitating in their direction. On the other hand, #1 Castle Way (3-1) appears to have the talent to make noise in this 1 5/8-mile St Leger (G1) prep.

Second in his debut over the July Course last August, Castle Way has since won three of four, the only setback being at Epsom, a tricky course he might not have handled. The last two scores came over the main Newmarket strip over 1 1/4 miles, including a solid triumph in the Newmarket S. at the Guineas Festival.

A half-brother to the top miler Palace Pier, Castle Way has room for further improvement, and the slight step up in trip might not prove too burdensome. He also has a touch of tactical foot, so he might end up being the one to catch.

Race 2: July (G2), 9:25 a.m. ET

This six-furlong dash for two-year-old males features Malc, who I endorsed for second in last month's Norfolk (G2) at Royal Ascot and obliged at 66-1. He was beaten by an even bigger longshot, Valiant Force, who paid $240 and change to win in the World Pool. Suffice it to say Malc has always caught my eye as a horse with potential, but probable odds around 7-2 in the July aren't too appealing coming out of a race that had such an unforeseeable result.

A more interesting contender at the price is #3 Lake Forest (8-1) from the William Haggas yard. The son of No Nay Never debuted over six at Haydock on June 14, smoothly eased himself into contention on the far side and spurted clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. That kind of trip can win races over this course, and I also like the fact his dam has already thrown a couple of stakes winners.