Our team look back upon a frantic weekend and give their views on Slade Power, the fixture list and future winners.
Q: Slade Power maintained his unbeaten record this season with a convincing victory in the Darley July Cup. How did you rate the performance? Does the proximity of runner-up Tropics weigh down the form, and if so, might he yet be beatable later this season?
Ian Ogg: It was a performance that confirmed his status as a leading sprinter over six furlongs but his chance and strength of the opposition was reflected by his price. We know that there's a lack of standout individuals in this division and that's prompted connections of the likes of Gregorian and Aljamaaheer to dip their toes in the water and, at the moment, none of them look capable of matching him although there's still time for the likes of Hot Streak and Due Diligence. A length and a half is a decent margin so Tropics proximity is of no concern but no horse is unbeatable while Eddie Lynam suggested that he could be set for an overseas campaign which will really test his mettle.
Matt Brocklebank: The others may not get another chance of beating Slade Power as the word straight after the race was that he could be heading for a November target in Australia before being retired to stand at stud. The runner-up was only rated 109 going into the race after a disappointing 2014 to that point but he was progressive last term and it was ultimately a convincing display from the winner. The performance of the fourth-home, Undrafted, was an eyecatching one as the easy ground would not have played to his strengths. Wesley Ward's charge would be fascinating if taking up his Nunthorpe entry next month.
Michael Shinners (Sky Bet): You couldn’t help but be impressed by his performance. He is incredibly consistent and appears to be improving despite being a five-year-old. It was a surprise that Tropics finished second, but he’s a good sprinter on his day and Slade Power can only beat what is put in front of him. His next target is Haydock which is a slightly different challenge, as the track isn’t as stiff as either Ascot or Newmarket.
Will Hayler: I think he's very good and probably improving all the time. I hope he does go to Haydock, because I think he'll win again as it's a race frequently run with some cut in the ground and that won't worry him one jot. If he's going to be beaten it could be in Australia on quicker conditions, but it's typically sporting of connections to roll the dice - other operations might be more concerned about the potential downside to as bold a move.
Q: Estidhkaar in the Superlative Stakes? Flaming Spear emulating smart stablemates in the maiden at York? Arabian Queen in the Cherry Hinton? Lexington Times in what is traditionally a red-hot maiden at the July meeting? Markaz at Ascot? Which performance by a juvenile most captured your imagination in the last few days?
WH: You'd hardly say that Estidhkaar showed a dramatic burst of acceleration on his way to winning the Superlative, but conditions might just have been on the slow side for him he ultimately ground his rivals into submission - furthermore I think the runner-up - who was beaten some way at the finish - could be quite a smart horse too. He could be a Royal Lodge Stakes horse for me.
MS: I was really impressed with Estidhkaar at Newmarket. The way he travelled through his race and then quickened clear was extremely pleasing on the eye. The further he went the better and Sky Bet were suitably impressed to go 20/1 for next year’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas. As it stands Hamdan Al Maktoum looks to hold a really strong hand in this division and it will be fascinating to see where his horses are placed in the coming months.
IO: I'm yet to watch a replay of Flaming Spear but there were clearly very strong vibes about his performance while David Elsworth has been singing the praises of Arabian Queen all season and it would be fantastic if she can emulate her dam, Barshiba. The run of Lexington Times intrigued me as I couldn't believe that Richard Hughes was pretty much left alone to race up the stands' side rail which was THE place to be over the first two days at Newmarket. I think there were one or two in the paddock who have more scope as long term projects, including stablemate Basateen who ran an eyecatching race despite looking in need of it. I was also impressed by the Godolphin filly Winters Moon and Estidhkaar did look pretty useful.
MB: Arabian Queen's victory over High Celebrity reads extremely well at face value but she was the beneficiary of a brilliant Ryan Moore ride and I'd be happy to side with the runner-up, at the right price, should they cross swords again later in the season. Markaz looks on an upward curve but he wouldn't be one I'd be rushing to back if stepped up to Pattern level next time. Slightly below the radar, one juvenile to have impressed me from the past couple of days is Tom Dascombe's Showing Character, who took his tally to 2-2 with another bloodless Chester victory on Friday evening. He's seriously fast and will hopefully be able to hold his own in better company in the coming weeks.
Q: Tom Eaves nearly ended a wait of more than two years for a York winner when booting Zain Eagle clear in the John Smith's Cup only to be caught by another prominent runner, Farraaj. What were your thoughts on the race and what can we take out for future use?
MB: The notion that every one of these big-field Saturday handicaps is run at a breakneck gallop has become a myth in my view. We've seen it on countless occasions over the past couple of seasons and Saturday's John Smith's Cup was another example in which your horse had to be handy, or simply stood next to no chance. Credit to Eaves for getting the fractions just about right on Zain Eagle, who didn't look the easiest conveyance up the home straight, but the winner proved far too good late on. Faraaj was defying an official handicap mark of 111, which is almost unheard of, and he'll remain competitive when returned to Group 2/3 company providing the ground is fast.
IO: Zain Eagle was always held in high regard by Gerard Butler and this was a career-best performance on just his second start for Robert Cowell, proving that he's not just a trainer of sprinters. There should be a decent prize in him this season while it's also a reminder that we can be too quick to knock horses with Farraaj showing his best form at the age of five. Queensbury Rules has always been well-hyped and his run indicated that there's still time for him to live up to the billing but his profile and connections mean that he's unlikely to be missed.
MS: It was a strange race with very few horses getting into the race. A lot of credit needs to go to Tom Eaves who rode a near perfect race to pinch it from the front. It was a race to forgive for a number of horses and I wouldn’t give up on Clever Cookie and Chancery who both ran well enough under the circumstances.
WH: Yes, it's Chancery for me too. With third-placed Bold Sniper also ridden prominently, he was about the only horse to make any ground up from the rear of the field and although he didn't exactly come into the contest looking well-handicapped, I suspect he can strike in a decent contest of this type before the season is out.
Q: Guest Of Honour was the winner of the Summer Mile at Ascot, but was anyone watching as the race jostled for attention with the action at Newmarket and York? Racecourses understandably want to stage their meetings when they'll be most profitable, but would a different date for one of the four British Saturday afternoon fixtures be preferable? Should Newmarket be asked again to push the July meeting back to its former dates either from Wednesday to Friday or Tuesday to Thursday?
IO: I barely glanced at Ascot and didn't even attempt to look at Chester, Hamilton and Salisbury which also staged competitive cards. I've always enjoyed the atmosphere of the mid-week meetings and, in the main, racecourses are guaranteed that the feature event won't be competing with as many other sports for attention and headline space but it's hard to counter their argument in ticket sales on a Saturday when the majority of the public can go racing. One obvious move would be to push one of the cards onto Sunday but that impacts on trainers and their staff who certainly deserve a day without racing during the summer in order to recharge the batteries.
MB: I, like Ian, would love to see more competitive action in Britain on a Sunday and it must be under consideration. I'd be very surprised if Newmarket agreed to moving their three-day meeting back to earlier in the week and the pressure may now be on Ascot to have a look at other options.
MS: I don’t have a massive opinion on the situation if I’m completely honest. I can see both sides of the coin, but think we have to look seriously into racing on a Sunday. The quality of racing on Sunday’s is usually pretty poor and I think if changes are going to be made to the fixture list, Sunday racing has to be top of the agenda.
WH: The increasing power of the racecourses means in the sport is well illustrated by the fact that I'm struggling to see how and by whom this situation is going to be resolved. The argument 'it's for the good of the game' is only going to get racing so far when individual commercial considerations come into play.
Q: Give us one horse you're looking forward to seeing anywhere this week and why.
IO: That's a nice leftfield question! After a quick scan of the entries, I've seen that Rapid Advance is in at Sandown on Thursday, racing from a 2lb higher mark than when winning at Goodwood on debut for Sir Michael Stoute. He didn't look entirely straightforward on the Downs but struck me as the type who could have a good deal more to offer if the yard can focus his energies in the right direction.
MB: I've been keeping a close eye on a whole host of Mark Johnston-trained three-year-olds over the past couple of weeks as he's one of the best trainers around when it comes to exploiting weight-for-age allowances against older horses. Alex My Boy hasn't faced his elders yet but his recent Haydock victory marked him down as one to follow, with races at Glorious Goodwood and possibly even the Cesarewitch on his mid-term agenda. The son of Dalakhani is entered in a Listed event at Hamilton this Friday, a race his yard won last year with Maputo, and I'll be getting stuck in if he is declared on Wednesday morning.
MS: Dark Ocean at Beverley on Tuesday. He’s an enigmatic character who probably needs a bit of rain, but he’s a horse who holds a place close to my heart.
WH: As close to my heart is my wonderful Goldan Jess, the first and last horse I have ever kissed. He showed enough fire on his first run for nearly a year at Kempton last week to make me consider heading to Cartmel on Saturday. His trainer tells me he'll still come on for the race, but if the going's good and he gets left alone in front, you never know. A little part of me is still lying on the grass in the car park in a daze after last year's victory. Surely it couldn't happen again...