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July Cup history – Six of the best winners

Jonathan Vine 25 Jun 2019
A wonderful view of the runners in the July Cup.

Our expert looks through the long, storied history of the July Cup and highlights six of the highest quality winners of Newmarket’s premier sprinting prize.

With Newmarket’s July Festival on our doorstep, flat racing fans will be anticipating three days of fantastic flat racing action. The feature race of the meeting has always been the July Cup - an electrifying six furlong sprint that was first run on the July Course way back in 1876.

A quick glance through the roll of honour for the Group One reads like a who’s who of worldwide sprinting royalty. While you could reel off the names of 50 or 60 top class speedsters to have lifted the July Cup, our expert has chosen six horses he thinks are amongst the greatest ever winners of this historic contest.

Ormonde (1887)

Winner of the Dewhurst Stakes at two, John Porter’s star entered the history books in 1886. Ormonde became just the fourth horse since history books began to land the British Triple Crown, following victories in the 2000 Guineas and the Derby with a superb triumph at Doncaster in the St Leger. During that season, Ormonde won the Champion Stakes and both the St James’s Palace Stakes and the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.

While that isn’t the conventional path trodden by a future July Cup winner, Ormonde showed his versatility the following season. Just weeks after winning his second-straight Hardwicke Stakes, Porter’s colt dealt with a high-quality field of sprinters to claim an incredible victory in the 1887 July Cup.  Connections decided to retired Ormonde after that Newmarket triumph, ending his time on the track with an unbeaten record of 16 wins from 16 appearances.

A Triple Crown winner, a dual winner at a single Royal Ascot, a hardy stayer, a speedy sprinter and a precocious sire. Ormonde really was a remarkable horse!

Diadem (1919, 1920)

Although there were several dual winners of the July Cup before Diadem arrived, the name of George Lambton’s filly stands out above most during that era. Winner of the Coventry Stakes in 1916, Diadem’s bid to win the Triple Crown was ended in the Derby, as the 1000 Guineas winner finished down the field as Gay Crusader won at Newmarket.

After struggling the second half of 1917 and the entire following season, Lambton decided to drop Diadem down to sprinting distances and it was then that his filly really blossomed. Not only did Diadem secure back-to-back victories in the July Cup – the second of which being a walkover – but the super-filly won the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in successive seasons.

Diadem ended her career with a record of 24 wins from 39 stars, eventually retiring at the ripe-old age of seven. 

Abernant (1949, 1950)

Following a narrow defeat in the 2000 Guineas, Noel Murless decided to drop Abernant back to sprining. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Abernant began his second life as a sprinter with a routine victory in the Kings’ Stand Stakes before cruising to his first July Cup win. Further victories in the Nunthorpe and the King George Stakes enforced Abernant’s status as the best sprinter on the planet - a position he enforced the following season as he claimed the July Cup, Nunthorpe, King George treble for a second straight season.

Abernant suffered defeat just once in sprints during his career, losing out in the 1950 Kings’ Stand Stakes when conceding 23 pounds to three-year-old Tangle on heavy ground. An astonishing Timeform rating of 142 – just five pounds short of Frankel – perfectly illustrates the talent Abernant possessed and he will always be regarded as one of, if not the greatest July Cup winner.

Marwell (1981)

Along with the great Shergar, Marwell’s exploits helped put a youthful Michael Stoute on the training map during the early 1980s. With Walter Swinburn in the saddle, the Habitat filly ended her juvenile campaign unbeaten, winning the Molecomb, the Flying Childers and the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.

A fantastic victory in the Kings’ Stand Stakes saw Marwell head into a clash with reigning champion, Moorestyle in the July Cup. The market leaders had pulled away from the pack by the two pole, but it was Marwell who edged ahead of her rival before the line to score a spectacular victory.

Marwell bounced back from a couple of surprise defeats with victory in the Prix de l’Abbaye out in France. She was retired to stand as a broodmare at the end of her three-year-old campaign and her progeny went on to win 25 races between them.

Agnes World (2000)

By the time the Millennium rolled around, the popularity of the July Cup had spread around the world. Raiders from Ireland and France had enjoyed plenty of success in this Group One down the years, but the late 90s saw sprinters from Australia and Asia travel to flat racing HQ to try and plunder the incredible riches on offer.

Hideyuki Mori arrived at the July Festival in the year 2000 with high hopes that Agnes World could become the first Asian-trained horse to win the July Cup. During the autumn, Agnes World had claimed a surprise triumph in the Abbaye, yet, there was still a sense of shock when Mori’s five-year-old put a field of quality sprinters to the sword to claim a maiden victory on British soil.

While some would question my decision to include Agnes World in this list, he opened the door for raiders outside Europe to target a tilt at the July Cup and his victory went a long way to promoting British racing on a truly global scale.

Adam Kirby riding Lethal Force (left) to victory in the 2013 The Darley July Cup.

Lethal Force (2013)

Decidedly unimpressive during his early years, Clive Cox’s sprinter finally found his feet as a four-year-old. Lethal Force travelled to Newmarket on the back of a surprise triumph in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, carrying odds of 11/1 to victory over top sprinter, Society Rock.

Despite that comfortable win, Lethal Force started the July Cup as the third favourite, with punters siding with Society Rock, Slade Power and South African raider, Shea Shea. A fast start allowed Adam Kirby to grasp the stands’ side rail and the duo never looked back, pulling clear in the closing stages to comfortably see off a top-quality field.

That day, Lethal Force set a new record over six furlongs at Newmarket, almost dipping below the fabled 1:09 barrier. Despite Cox claiming “the sky’s the limit” after watching his colt scorch to victory, Lethal Force only raced twice more in his career. His peak rating of 121 is far from the highest in July Cup history, but the fact he broke the track record means Lethal Force’s name will be remembered until the day that blistering time is topped.

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July Cup history – Six of the best winners

Our expert looks through the long, storied history of the July Cup and highlights six of the highest quality winners of Newmarket’s premier sprinting prize.

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