Air Force Blue was the leading juvenile of last season but the horse is on a retrieval mission after some setbacks in the July Cup at Newmarket on Saturday. Profitable was a winner at Royal Ascot and has the form to beat more fancied rivals in the six furlongs sprint at the headquarters of Flat racing. The Group 1 will be the first major weekend race since Kieren Fallon announced his retirement.
Fallon was the champion jockey six times, won three Derbies and 16 British Classics in total. He has been described this week as a flawed genius but also a modern-day great. In the pantheon of British Flat jockeys perhaps only Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Willie Carson would be ranked higher than the 51-year-old who has finished race riding after advice from doctors who have bent treating him for depression.
Fallon won just about all the major races in Europe but never the July Cup. Lester Piggott is the winning most jockey with ten successes between 1957 and 1992 which is an amazing span of 35 years. Sunridge won the July Cups of 1902, 1903 and 1904 and no other horse has won the race three times. His trainer had five wins in total up to the start of the First World War and Vincent O’Brien matched that record between 1973 and 1990. The July Cup is open to horses aged three and over and is one of the most prestigious sprints in Europe and often identifies the champion sprinter.
The race has had Group 1 status since 1978 and is now part of the Global Sprint Challenge that encompasses all the major short distance Flat races from around the world. The race is the highlight of the three day Newmarket July meeting which is now part of Super Saturday. On the first day of this weekend there are meetings at the home of Flat racing and at Ascot, York and Chester. With so much poor fare in the week and little to inspire and interest on Sunday spreading the sweeties would make sense but the vested interests of the individual course makes this unlikely.
The dynamics could change next year when ITV will be the sole mainstream broadcaster of British racing. Some of their programmes will be shown on ITV4 so Super Saturday has an uncertain future in the context of TV coverage. The day could be presented as being unique in that 100,000 people go racing in Britain and a race every ten minutes could reflect attendances at the four courses. Channel 4 will show ten races live between 2.45 and 4.50 this year.
Air Force Blue won’t be concerned as he tries to get his career back on track sprinting. The Aidan O’Brien colt was the best two year old last season but ran poorly in the 1,000 Guineas as the clear favourite. Getting beaten by Galileo Gold is no disgrace but Air Force Blue ran no sort of race and was over 14 lengths adrift in 12th place. The horse was niggled soon after halfway and was beaten two furlongs from home. The jockey, Ryan Moore, reported the horse didn’t feel the same as last year.
Bookmakers may have taken a chance by quoting Air Force Blue at 14/1 to win the July Cup. The reasoning is that he is racing against specialist sprinters from an older age group. The horse gets a six pounds age allowance and is the highest rated animal in the race and has at least four pounds in hand. However, Air Force Blue could be beaten for speed and is vulnerable to horses that are proven at this distance.
In theory Profitable has several lengths to make up on all known form but that horse is a genuine sprinter and does not excel over the mile that was seen as Air Force Blue’s optimum trip. Profitable won over five furlongs at Ascot and has not won over further. Class could get him home and good to soft ground will help but the meeting began on Thursday on good to firm ground. Any rain before the weekend would help Profitable and he could go to post as the favourite for the July Cup.