Newmarket July Festival Day One Tips: A big priced pair to kick the meeting off in style

Newmarket racecourse
Tony runs through the card for day one of the July Festival at Newmarket (pictured)
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It's day one of the Newmarket July Festival on Thursday and Tony Calvin is back to talk through the card and he's found a pair to back at big prices...

"Grand Koonta is drawn on the other side in one, and he has been coming down the handicap. Indeed, the assessor has played very fair in dropping him 5lb for his two runs over 7f this season. He is my main bet in the race."

The opening day of the Newmarket July Cup meeting rarely gets me into punting mode, and it's a similar story time around, too, I am afraid.

I have a couple of bets in one race though and, as ever, I will take you through the four terrestrial races - it is on ITV3, in fact, and not its usual ITV4 home - and give you my thoughts.

I'm good like that.

Bahrain Trophy a minefield

My immediate impression of the Bahrain Trophy at 13:50 was one of "yours, not mine" as it looks an absolute minefield of a race.

Even though he has a fair bit to find with most of these on official ratings I suppose it was inevitable that First Eleven would be towards the top of the market after a luckless third in the King George V handicap at Royal Ascot, his first run in a tongue-tie (which is retained here).

Jim Crowley slammed the door shut on Frankie when he tried to manoeuvre First Eleven to the outside 1f out there, and it was game over from then on. Not by a great deal though, as he powered home on the rail, only being beaten a neck and a nose into third, and he was in front 10 yards after the line.

He clearly is better than he was able to show there but we must remember that effort came off a mark of just 91, and three or four of these would have won that handicap off a similar rating.

The solid Giuseppe Garibaldi is officially the horse to beat in here, having 3lb and more in hand of the field, but he is faced with some unexposed and talented opposition.

Chief among them, outside of First Eleven, is Loxley, who beat the Eclipse sixth Raymond Tusk in good style over 1m2f here last month. He is undoubtedly promising but this Juddmonte entry is stepping up 3f and that is a fair unknown for a horse trading at his price.

Global Giant half-interested me at 16/1-plus as I thought he shaped really well when fifth in the Hampton Court, sticking on pretty well over this 1m2f trip. However, again, he is by Shamardal and the step up to 1m5f is a pretty big question mark for him. And it is worth noting that he was also in a 1m2f handicap here on Friday.

Konckek an each-way tempter in the July Stakes

I have to pass on the race, and the same is true of the July Stakes at 14:25.

Coventry runner-up Advertise is clearly the horse to beat and the right favourite after his excellent Ascot second, and a price just shy of 2/1 is probably very fair.

That is the best form on offer going into the race, especially as Van Beethoven carries a 3lb penalty courtesy of his Group 2 Railway Stakes win at the Curragh win.

Legends Of War had plenty swooning after his Yarmouth win but the subsequent exploits of the placed horses give the form a more sobering look, for all he is a very exciting colt.

I can see the case for Norfolk fifth Konchek stepping up to 6f - that looked a good renewal last month - and he would possibly be my bet, each way, at a double-figure price.

But it's a dead-eight as we stand, and the spectre of a non-runner always looms large (though, of course, place terms remain the same on the Exchange if one comes out) in these circumstances.

Two to back in the handicap

I also found the 6f handicap at 15:00 pretty tricky, with some seriously progressive three-year-olds locking horns - three come here on a hat-trick and another is on a four-timer - but the two that interested me most were Roundhay Park and Grand Koonta.

And both are bets at the prices, too, from wildly differing draws.

The former quickened up in snug style to keep his unbeaten Ripon record intact in a good time last month, and a mere 2lb rise is generous.

This hold-up horse will need luck in running from his draw on the fair rail (he is 20 of 20) but I thought he was too big, even if this is a fair class hike from a 0-95. Back him at [23.0] or bigger.

Grand Koonta is drawn on the other side in one, and he has been coming down the handicap. Indeed, the assessor has played very fair in dropping him 5lb for his two runs over 7f this season. He is my main bet in the race.

He was immediately eased once hampered at Goodwood on his return - there is a suspicion he may be a bit soft - but ran a better race here last time, where he travelled well for most of the contest before dropping away approaching the furlong marker.

That looks pretty underwhelming on paper. However, he wasn't ideally positioned by racing on the wide outside throughout there, and I like the angle of him stepping back down to the trip over which his best efforts have come (notably his fifth in a Mill Reef that worked out well).

He was well-regarded as a juvenile, and 6f on quick ground for the first time could just be the making of him. His Group 2-placed half-brother Albaasil loved a fast surface, with form figures of 112 on it, including a 1m win at this meeting in 2011 (the now-Bet365 Mile).

And Grand Koonta himself ran well at this meeting last year (he also just got touched off here in a novice on his second start) when beaten fewer than six lengths in the July Stakes, despite racing wide once again and the race developing away from him.

Hopefully, the first-time cheekpieces will help, too - he hasn't been finishing off his races as you would like - and it is a plus that his in-form trainer has a good record with this option (four from 15 since 2016).

Cox uses headgear sparingly but very effectively, also having recent winners that have worn blinkers (Isle Of Man at Brighton last month) and hoods (Connect at Epsom) on the initial occasion.

He was 40/1 in five places on Tuesday afternoon and that price seemed huge, so I am happy to still back him at [34.0] or bigger. He is a very interesting contender, indeed.

Mirage should dance past rivals

I was seriously toying with putting up Mirage Dancer at 5/2 or bigger in the 1m4f Group 2 race at 15:35.

I will not tell you what I was shouting at my TV when James McDonald failed to negotiate a clear passage in the Wolferton over 1m2f last time, and the horse did really well to finish fifth given the passage he endured. I'm not sure he was unlucky as such, but he wouldn't have been far away and I would have liked to have found out.

The step up to 1m4f is very much in his favour, as evidenced by his previous Goodwood win over the trip, and I am convinced he is a four-year-old going places. It will be a little disappointing if he can't see off this lot, but I will stop just short of putting him up as a bet.

There are a couple that can give him a race - Barsanti beat him narrowly at Ascot earlier in the season - and Muntahaa is definitely one of those, too. He was 11/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook on Tuesday, and little wonder that was snapped up.

He actually finished three-quarters of a length in front of Mirage Dancer in the Wolferton, albeit getting 3lb, and the extra 2f will really suit him too, as he has won a John Porter over this trip as well as winning over an extended 1m5f at Chester.

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