It’s an annual rite of passage for precocious two-year-old thorougbreds – becoming the first of the crop to win a Graded Stakes race.
This past July 4th holiday weekend, Jack’s In The Deck won the Futurity Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park and Exfactor won the Bashford Manor Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, blazing the trail for others to follow on the road to the 2012 Triple Crown.
I enjoy studying the pedigrees and writing about the two-year-olds on the trail. But, for some time, I’ve wanted to broaden my studies and it’s natural that would include writing about juvenile thoroughbred Group races in the British Isles and France.
Newmarket Racecourse opens its three-day Piper Heidsieck July Festival tomorrow and eight two-year-old thoroughbreds will go to the post of the 6-furlong $93,500 TNT July Stakes (Group 2), which is the second race of the seven-race card.
The July Stakes, the oldest flat race for two-year-olds in England, is run on the appropriately named July Course. In addition to July Course, Newmarket also has Rowley Mile racecourse where the 2,000 Guineas, one of the most prestigious races in England, is run the first weekend in May.
The TNT July Stakes is open to two-year-old colts and geldings and all eight horses entered in this edition are bay colts who are descendants of the Northern Dancer sire line which, like the line of Mr. Prospector in America, dominates British flat racing.
In America, many horses have a chestnut coat color while most horses I’ve seen on television racing in the British and Irish flat races are bay in color. So coat color is one of the many factors I will look at in our study of flat racing.
Roman Soldier heads the field of eight as the Twinspires 8-5 morning line favorite and he looks very tough in this race.
In his Group debut last month at the Royal Ascot meet, Roman Soldier finished second in the Coventry Stakes (Group 2) losing by a neck to Power who is tied for third-place with Lilbourne Lad on the Timeform list of top two year olds with a Timeform rating of 110.
"I was delighted with his run at Ascot,” said Roman Soldier’s trainer Jeremy Noseda in an At The Races news article. “I think we were hoping we'd finish fourth or fifth but to finish second was above our expectations going in. He should be competitive again. Good ground would be ideal for him and I'd love it if the rain they have forecast materialises. Ryan Moore will take the ride."
Roman Soldier has a 109 Timeform ranking which puts him in a three-way tie for fourth-place with Shumoos, runner up in the 5-furlong Queen Mary Stakes (Group 2) at Royal Ascot and Family One, recent winner of the 5-furlong Prix du Bois Stakes (Group 3) at Chantilly Racecourse.
Holy Roman Emperor, the sire of Roman Soldier, is a descendant of the Danzig sire line and since 1990, that line has produced the most July Stakes winners with seven victors: Bertolini (1998), Mister Links (2002), Captain Hurricane (2004), Ivan Denisovich (2005), Strategic Prince (2006), Arcano (2009) and Libranno (2010).
Danehill, the grandsire of Roman Soldier, sired July Stakes winner Ivan Denisovich and also was the grandsire of Mister Links and Strategic Prince.
The pedigree of Roman Soldier suggests that he may have classic potential with the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Secretariat, Sadler’s Wells, Northern Dancer and Seattle Slew located in the first three generations. So I’ll be looking forward to watching him stretch out to route races.
Frederick Engels, winner of the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot, is the 2-1 morning line second choice. Frederick Engels has yet to run in a Group race and is stepping up in class but trainer David Brown is hopeful for his colt.
"So far he's been improving massively with each run so we hope that's the case again - we'll find out,” said Brown in an At The Races news article. “I suppose the horse that was second in the Coventry (Roman Soldier) is our biggest danger but ours will be one of the favourites and he deserves to be. If he wins we'll have one of the best juveniles in training."
With a 108 Timeform ranking, Frederick Engels is tied with Coventry Stakes third-place finisher St. Barths and a solid win in the July Stakes could, perhaps, help to move him up the leaderboard.
A long shot I like in this race is Right To Dream(10-1) who has never been out of the money in three starts and comes into the race with an impressive 5-length maiden win at Royal Windsor on June 25.
While Right To Dream has never competed at the Group level, he has improved his performance in each race and I believe he has the breeding to be competitive.
Right To Dream is a descendant of the Danzig sire line and his sire, Oasis Dream, was a champion sprinter in England and the sire of Arcano, winner of the 2009 July Stakes.
Green Desert, the grandsire of Right To Dream, also was a champion sprinter in England and the grandsire of Captain Hurricane, winner of the 2004 July Stakes.
Irish River, the damsire of Right To Dream, was a Classic Champion miler in France and winner of the 1979 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas).
Born A Lady, the third dam of Right To Dream, was a stakes winner and the fourth dam, Natalma, was also the dam of Northern Dancer.
If the track is firm, Bannock (10-1) is another interesting long shot that may deserve a second look. Bannock comes into the race with a 2-2-0 record in five starts. However, in his first attempt in Group competition, he finished sixth in the Norfolk Stakes (Group 2) at Royal Ascot.
The track was yielding that day and he may have not liked the going. Also, he may not be up to competing at the Group level.
Nevertheless, Bannock is a descendant of the Danzig sire line and Bertolini, his sire, won the 1998 July Stakes. So, if Bannock looks good before the race, he may be worthy of a small wager.
My schedule is full right now. But, I plan to write about as many Group races as possible. However, writing about juveniles on the American trail is my top priority.
Good luck with the Piper Heidsieck July Festival.