Timeform chief correspondent Jamie Lynch picks out five important dates coming up in July including the July Meeting at Newmarket...
"The hottest horse on the planet might just get hotter at Monmouth Park."
Jamie Lynch on Justify
June was the middle month of the Flat season, and, in that context, Royal Ascot was how it should be, answering some questions and asking others, developing some reputations and denting others, intensifying some battle lines and introducing others.
After Ascot, the character and climate of the season changes, at least at the top end of the table, the end of qualification and the start of the Champions League, to determine the doyen of each division, and the most critical consideration from now on is the generation game, in which the three-year-olds set about their elders, coming to a head in the month of July.
1. CORAL-ECLIPSE, Sandown - July 7
This is the first point in Britain which allows for a clash of the ages, and this may be one for the ages, with Round 4 of a grudge match between two bona fide classic colts - the first and third from the Derby, Masar and Roaring Lion - and an older Group 1 winner from Royal Ascot like Poet's Word.
It's 2-1 to Masar in their private battle, which, on top of his Derby win, makes sense of his position in the Eclipse market as 7/4 favourite, but this is the first meeting between them over ten furlongs, and there's a strong suspicion that it may prove Roaring Lion's optimum trip, remembering his power play in the Dante.
For now, for the crop, the ratings say they're average, at least the middle-distance mob, but the race needs Poet's Word to test that theory, as he's alone amongst the older contingent as a genuine Group 1 horses. If we do get those three, we're in for a treat and in for a legacy lesson about where they stand, individually and collectively.
2. JULY MEETING, Newmarket - July 12-14
Panama were overrun by England, but a corner of England will be overrun by Panamas during the July meeting at Newmarket, and hats off to them. The July meeting is distinct and defined, unlike its main event, the July Cup, following some sprinting strangeness at Royal Ascot, with neither the King's Stand nor the Diamond Jubilee sticking to the script.
The winners of both those races - Blue Point and Merchant Navy - are at the top of the market for the July Cup, but the latter has been retired, and whilst last year's winner, Harry Angel, isn't committed either after his Ascot anguish.
Into this corridor of uncertainty, doors are opening for the three-year-olds from the Commonwealth Cup, the failed milers like U S Navy Flag and Limato, and even the jumped-up handicappers, thinking principally about Dreamfield. The fact it's a powder keg of a sprint scene only adds to the importance and intrigue of this July Cup.
3. KING GEORGE, Ascot - July 28
Remember several months ago when life, and racing, seemed simpler? Godolphin won the Dubai World Cup. William Haggas won the Lincoln. Aidan O'Brien won the Guineas. And the only question around the King George was Cracksman or Enable.
But Enable is on the side and Cracksman is on the slide, or so it seems, taught a lesson in professionalism at Royal Ascot by Poet's Word, whom he'd beaten all ends up in the Champion Stakes last autumn. All the while Cracksman's star has dimmed, Crystal Ocean's has brightened, so much so that he's joint-favourite with the Betfair Sportsbook for the King George, based on his flight path, still climbing at the same time Cracksman is losing altitude.
If there's an even starker lesson in not presuming things when it comes to the King George then it's last year's renewal, when, at this stage, nobody even envisaged Enable turning up let alone turning it on like she did, and that avant-garde approach may tempt some three-year-olds to parachute in, depending on what happens in the Eclipse and/or Irish Derby/Oaks.
4. HASKELL INVITATIONAL, Monmouth - July 29
There's one reason, and one reason only, why the Haskell may be a red letter day in July, and that because the horse of the year so far - from any jurisdiction - could well embark on the next phase of his perfect and pioneering career. Riding the wave of euphoria from the Triple Crown, Justify looks likely to follow in the hoofprints of American Pharoah by next taking the show on the road to New Jersey.
A recent return to track workouts fits the programme for Justify, for a road that will eventually lead back to Churchill, for the Classic, for the grandest of grand slams. The hottest horse on the planet might just get hotter at Monmouth Park.
5. GLORIOUS GOODWOOD, DAY ONE - July 31
The majority of Glorious Goodwood sits in August, but the Tuesday is worth flagging up on its own, featuring, in ascending order, the Vintage, the Lennox and the Goodwood Cup. The explosive Expert Eye from last year's Vintage belatedly burst back to life at Royal Ascot, and four of the previous five Vintage winners subsequently landed Group 1s, making it a more meaningful race than it's often credited with.
The fact that Stradivarius won the Goodwood Cup in 2017 could prove a game-changer for this time around, in the sense that many more three-year-olds come to make the most of the weight-for-age allowance. He came via the Queen's Vase, and the one-two from this year's renewal, Kew Gardens and Southern France, are likely lads to follow Stradivarius' lead.
Because of its prize fund, the Lennox now attracts a Group 1 field for a Group 2 race, catering for the seven-furlong specialists, and a few milers and sprinters besides, lured in by the £300,000 on offer. There was a little over a length between the first seven in the race last year, though that's the Goodwood way, the tricky track making it a jockey's nightmare and a layer's dream.
The cliff is fast approaching, but I’m following Firmament until he cashes in on his falling mark, and odds of 25/1 for him for the Bunbury Cup with the Betfair Sportsbook are way too big to turn down. A mid-field finish in the Hunt Cup last time doesn’t tell the full story, as Firmament travelled better than most and hit some traffic, which, supplementing how he shaped in the Victoria Cup, suggests he’s still got what it takes for these big handicaps.