The Group 2 Princess of Wales’s Stakes run over a mile and a half is the feature of the first day at Newmarket’s July Festival (3.15pm, Thursday live on Channel 4).
The 5/2 favourite, Exosphere has plenty to prove after his disappointing effort at Royal Ascot. He was strongly fancied to win but found absolutely nothing when asked by Ryan Moore (pictured) and was beaten nearly 20 lengths by his impeccably connected stablemate, the Queen’s Dartmouth. Extensive tests revealed no physical reason for his flop – was it the testing ground or was he just having a bad day?
Sir Michael Stoute has reportedly always liked this colt but Moore admitted that he was surprised Exosphere was able to win the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes here in April on his seasonal debut. His task was made significantly easier by the failure of the odds-on favourite, John Gosden’s Jack Hobbs. Exosphere beat the St Leger winner, Simple Verse, four lengths, receiving two pounds from her. It was his first experience of Group company.
This four-year has scored in lesser company on decent ground but took the Jockey Club on good to soft. He will have to shoulder a 3lb penalty for that win but, if he enjoys conditions and ratings are to be believed, it should not prevent him from getting the better of the majority of this field under Ryan Moore.
The current titleholder, Big Orange (8/1), finished third, nine lengths behind Exosphere in April. His form suggests that the ground might have been a bit slow for him but he appeared to be outpaced by the front pair. Perhaps he was not back to his best after his globetrotting.
Michael Bell sent Big Orange to Australia for the Melbourne Cup in November. He picked up decent money for finishing fifth, beaten two and a half lengths. In March he was just touched off by Alain De Royer-Dupre’s Vazirabad in a Group 2 over the same distance of two miles in Dubai. This sizeable five-year-old son of Duke Of Marmalade seems most effective on good ground or faster and usually comes on for a run or two. Rated 5lb below the favourite, Big Orange is not without hope of gaining a second win. He will be partnered by the very capable James McDonald for the first time.
Luca Cumani’s Second Step (9/2) was the runner-up, beaten half a length, by Big Orange here last year. He went on to win his next start, a Group 1 over this trip at Hoppegarten in Germany in August. He has not got his head in front since. The extra two furlongs in the Irish St Leger in September proved a bit too far him. He weakened in the final stages finishing fourth, 12 lengths behind the runaway winner, Order Of St George. An excursion to Canada for a Group 1 at Woodbine was a waste of time for all concerned in October. He failed to fire and finished with only two horses behind him.
This season he kicked off his campaign with another try at a mile and six furlongs in the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup on the Knavesmire in May. He started as the 10/11 favourite on the quick ground but was outstayed by Clever Cookie and Curbyourenthusiasm, beaten less than a length into third.
No one thought Second Step was going to win (he started at 16/1) the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Cup at Epsom in early June and they were right. He was beaten over seven lengths by his more illustrious former stablemate Postponed into fifth. This five-year-old son of Dalakhani is decent, but his rating has dropped 7lb to 111 after his two starts this term. Second Step’s one domestic success at this level came in the Jockey Club Stakes here in May last year when he narrowly beat Sir Michael Stoute’s Telescope. This appears to be his optimum trip, he likes Newmarket and he should enjoy conditions. Having Frankie Dettori on board for the first time has to be a considerable boost for his chances.
The highest rated runner in the line-up is The Grey Gatsby (7/2) with an official mark of 122. He has not won for nearly two years but his last 11 starts have all been in Group 1s. In the autumn of 2014 he took the Irish Champion Stakes, beating O’Brien’s superstar Australia a neck. Since then he has come second to the likes of Solow, Free Eagle and Golden Horn over a mile and a quarter.
This five-year-old son of Mastercraftsman has only been seen once this season, beaten four lengths on unsuitably soft going at Royal Ascot in the Prince of Wales. He kept on at the same pace whilst My Dream Boat and Found made off and finished fourth. His trainer Kevin Ryan knew it was not his ground but needed to start him somewhere. He is a robustly made type who probably needs an outing or two to put him spot on.
The Grey Gatsby has had one try at this distance in very deep ground at Longchamp in 2014. He must have hated the conditions but plugged on to take sixth close to the line. Connections have clearly not deserted top class aspirations as he holds a number of entries in Group 1s. This drop in class and increased trip ought to play to his strengths. Jamie Spencer has ridden The Grey Gatsby many times but never won on him. This race may well bring him a long awaited victory if he get the tactics right.
Saaed Bin Suroor saddles Elite Army (11/2) for Godolphin. This five-year-old son of Authorized was the second favourite for the St Leger in 2014 but failed to line up after an injury hold up. He looks a fragile type with only seven runs to his name.
Elite Army only managed one start as a four-year-old and was well beaten but reappeared after a year’s absence to win a listed race at Ascot in May. He stretched William Buick’s arms early on but still beat Andrew Balding’s Scotland a head. Next time at Royal Ascot he started as the 9/2 favourite but did not quite get home in the testing ground and was the runner-up, beaten a length by Kinema in a handicap. Both races were over this distance.
This is Elite Army’s first Group race but he could well be progressive. He will need to be starting off a mark of 109.
Battersea (16/1) also has something to find on ratings with his lowly mark of 104. Trained by Roger Varian, this will be his first run since returning from Dubai. He won a handicap at Meydan in February but was beaten four lengths in a Group 3 there in March by Sheikhzayedroad. Both those races were over a mile and six furlongs.
This five-year-old son of Galileo loves quick ground and won twice on it over this distance in handicaps two years ago. He may run well, especially if ‘firm’ is in the going description, but could be up against it in this company.
The only three-year-old to line up is Owen Burrows’ Muntazah (9/1). This colt is only rated 1lb higher than Battersea but benefits from a 13lb age allowance putting him right in the picture. He won his maiden third time out as a juvenile and finished third, beaten four lengths by Found in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket when trained by Barry Hiills.
In his only run this term Muntazah finished a very respectable fourth in the Dante, beaten four lengths by Wings Of Desire. As a son of Dubawi he is far from guaranteed to get this distance but he kept on at the same pace in the Dante (over a mile and a quarter) looking likely to benefit from further. Burrows’ yard is in great form, three of his past four runners have scored. Muntazah is a very interesting each-way prospect.
This is an interesting puzzle with the majority of the field holding realistic claims on summer ground. Exosphere could well bounce back but is an unconvincing favourite. Muntazah has a chance but our preference is for THE GREY GATSBY who ought to benefit from this drop in class on ground that will suit him.