The “Super Saturday” blizzard of action will have been expensive for some punters but there is consolation in knowing that even an acknowledged genius can be fooled by a racehorse. Aidan O’Brien won his fourth July Cup with the gritty U S Navy Flag, who turns out to be a speedball despite having been campaigned as a miler so far this year.
“Probably what threw us was that he was able to win a Dewhurst,” the trainer conceded. “He shouldn’t have been able to do that.”
The Dewhurst is supposed to be the key race for flagging up the next year’s Guineas prospects and so, having won it by daylight in the autumn, U S Navy Flag was stepped up to a mile in the spring and tried his luck in the French Guineas, the Irish Guineas and the St James’s Palace Stakes. Excuses could be made but the bottom line was that he came up short in three countries.
A loser five times in a row, the colt came here with a diminishing reputation under suspicion of having failed to train on. But all he wanted was a 25% cut in the distance of his races and, faced with six furlongs to cover for the first time since he won the Middle Park in September, he made every yard of the running and won tidily by just under two lengths.
U S Navy Flag is best understood as a kind of boxer, if you accept the rhetoric from O’Brien and the winning jockey, Ryan Moore; in a short fight, he has too much power for his opponents, but a longer one lets him punch himself out. “He is aggressive,” the trainer mused. “He can go forward and he’s very happy to lead.
“If anyone wants to lead him, that’s fine but if you’re leading him, you have to go very hard because if you don’t, he’ll go hard himself. He’s so genuine, his head goes to the floor.” Moore added that U S Navy Flag “loves a fight. The second came to him and he found plenty.”
There seems, however, no question oThe colt is hardly the first ex-miler to reveal himself as a sprinter in this race. Green Desert, Ajdal and Dream Ahead followed a broadly similar trajectory, while Chief Singer was a successful miler before and after taking this prize.
f U S Navy Flag being anything other than a sprinter from now on. He will be given a break before being aimed at Australia’s fantastically valuable Everest Stakes in October. The richest turf race in the world, it will reportedly be worth A$13m (£7.3m)this year and is a natural target for a firm as ambitious as Coolmore, the power behind O’Brien, which has significant bloodstock interests in the country.
O’Brien took the chance to lavish praise on Australian racing (“healthy and strong and competitive … at a very high level … It’s obviously the future”) and, unexpectedly, on Australia, which he sees as “a very exciting, young country”. That might have something to do with Australia having provided him with a Group One winner just last month, when Merchant Navy scored at Royal Ascot a matter of weeks after showing up at his stable.
But the nation’s pride was not upheld by Redkirk Warrior, who is still trained in Australia but has been trying to pick off a big prize here this summer. He showed up well for a long way in this July Cup before tiring in the final furlong to be 10th. Others who raced towards the stands side also fared poorly, including Sands Of Mali, who had got very warm in the paddock.
Brando fared best of the rest, despite having needed a new shoe at the start, running on from the back to be runner-up. His trainer, Kevin Ryan, was delighted to hear the winner might have his next start in the southern hemisphere. “I’ll pay his ticket!” he said.
Blue Point, sent off favourite, ran too free and was a tired seventh but weightier matters were on the mind of his trainer, Charlie Appleby, as he left the track. He was due to discuss the future of his Derby winner, Masar, with veterinary advisors on Saturday night after a scan of the horse’s injured leg. The upshot is expected on Sunday.