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July Cup report

It was all about speed on Newmarket’s July Course yesterday, as Limato produced a devastating burst of acceleration to go clear of his rivals inside the final furlong and land the Group 1 Darley July Cup by an easy-looking two lengths.

And the primary imponderable beforehand surrounding Limato was about his speed for six furlongs: would he have the requisite pace to be competitive in the all-aged speed test of mid-summer.  After all, the Henry Candy-trained gelding had produced the most impressive performance of his life before yesterday in the Park Stakes at Doncaster last September over the longer trip of seven furlongs. 

Not only that, but the feeling among connections at the start of this term was that Limato could be a miler.  He made his seasonal debut in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes over a mile, a race for which he was sent off as favourite, and his stated original target at Royal Ascot was the Queen Anne Stakes, also over a mile, not the Diamond Jubilee over six furlongs.

More important than the distance, however, Candy assured us before yesterday’s race, was the ground.  Limato is at his happiest when the ground is fast, when he can bounce off it and use his speed.  Any softening in the terrain blunts that speed.  And so, the dry week was in his favour.  Official ground description: bouncy. 

It was a strange dichotomy for the trainer because, while fast ground was a positive for Limato, it was a potential negative for the trainer’s other representative in the race, Diamond Jubilee Stakes winner Twilight Son.  Indeed, it was only after significant deliberation that he decided to allow the Kyllachy colt take his chance.

But Limato loved it.  He bounced out of the stalls – and his performance at the gate was a concern beforehand – and he settled into a lovely racing rhythm for his 24-year-old rider Harry Bentley just behind the pace.  He made nice progress towards the far side two furlongs out, and he eased his way into the front rank before they had reached the furlong pole.

That was probably earlier than ideal, but he was travelling so well that his rider had no real option but to let him go at that point.  Bentley gave his horse a kick in the belly, and the response was impressive.  Limato picked up and immediately put a distance of ground between himself and his pursuers. 

As he did, he hung to his right, towards the gate that takes you back to the paddock, but Bentley quickly had him straight and balanced again, and the pair of them powered up the hill to post a seriously impressive victory.

“It was absolutely electrifying,” said Candy, who was winning his first July Cup.  “Horses like him make the job easy.  A lot depended on two things, whether I could get the saddle on his back, and whether or not he jumped out of the stalls.  I got the saddle on okay, and he jumped out of the gate well.  When he hits the front, he be a bit wayward.  But he was well clear when he did it today, and it was all over by then anyway.  It’s absolutely wonderful, to see a horse perform like that.  It’s really exciting.”

Despite the speed that his horse showed, Candy hasn’t ruled out a step back up in distance to a mile.

“I was only half joking when I said that the Sussex Stakes (over a mile at Glorious Goodwood) would be an interesting target,” he said.  “I think he gets a mile, I think he could do both.  We’re a bit short of six-furlong races.  I suppose he could go to Deauville for the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half furlongs.  Or we could so something really eccentric and go up to a mile.”

Harry Bentley – who completed a double on the day on the Ralph Beckett-trained Gold Faith in the finale – has ridden big-race winners in Qatar, he won the Emirs Trophy there in February on The Blue Eye, but this was a first British Group 1 win for the young rider.

“It’s amazing,” he said.  “When you can ride a race like that, in a Group 1, it’s some thrill.  I couldn’t have been happier with how the race panned out.  It was in the back of my mind that he stayed a mile, so I wanted to be handy.  I got there a bit soon, he was just taking me into the race so well and the pace was dropping away.  He was on his own in front for the best part of a furlong, and he’s clever, he just hung towards the stands side a bit.  But if he can do that in a Group 1 race, then you know he is a serious racehorse. 

“I’m delighted to be able to repay the trainer and owner Paul Jacobs for the faith that they have placed in me.  I don’t doubt my ability as a rider, but, like with any sport, you are always improving, and I think that I am.  But I have never before sat on a horse as brilliant as Limato.  To get the feel that he gave me today, that thrill.”

That’ll be the speed for you. 


© The Sunday Times, 10th July 2016