Archie Watson believes the Darley July Cup at Newmarket’s Moët & Chandon July Festival on Saturday is shaping up to be “the race of the season” as Dragon Symbol and Glen Shiel bid to give him a first victory in the race.
The Lambourn trainer will let his two talented sprinters battle it out against each other in the prestigious six furlong Group One contest, which will also feature defending champion Oxted, this year’s Jersey Stakes hero Creative Force and impressive Duke Of York Stakes scorer Starman.
Official figures suggest there is little to separate Watson’s pair, with last year’s British Champions Sprint Stakes hero Glen Shiel rated 117, just a pound above Dragon Symbol.
However, the Group One winning handler insists he is none the wiser as to which horse will finish in front of the other, despite bookmakers pricing Dragon Symbol up much shorter than his stablemate.
Watson said: “I think we know where we are at with Glen Shiel as he can win these Group Ones and he is consistent at his level, which is more than enough to win a July Cup under the right circumstances.
“I would say with Dragon Symbol we don’t really know where his peak is yet. I’d say they ran similar races on the figures at Ascot and it wouldn’t surprise me to see either horse finish in front of the other as they are both high class sprinters.
“It is an incredibly strong race though, as you have all the strands of form coming together. You have got Oxted coming back up from five furlongs, you have got Dragon Symbol from the Commonwealth Cup, Rohaan from the Wokingham and Glen Shiel and Starman.
“It is probably the most competitive race of the season so far and it is great to be involved. I would love to win the race and we go there with two good chances.”
Although Glen Shiel is yet to get his head in front in either of his two starts this season, most recently when finishing second in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at the Royal meeting, Watson believes the seven year old has demonstrated he remains a sprinter of the highest quality.
Watson said: “He ran a huge race at Ascot. He clearly just needed his first run back in the Greenlands at the Curragh and he tightened up for that. He obviously handled the soft ground well at Ascot, as did the winner, but he ran another very big race.
“It was nice to see him do that again and it was probably a joint career best to his Group One win there in the autumn. It is good to see him produce a performance like that again and hopefully show that he can remain competitive at Group One level again this year.
“He has stayed a lot further in his time so a nice stiff six there should really suit him. The ground is not going to be as soft as his Ascot runs but he ran a very good race on better ground in France last year when he was just getting the feel of things as a sprinter and I’m sure he can be just as effective on better ground.”
Dragon Symbol was denied victory at the Royal meeting after being demoted to second following a stewards’ inquiry in the Commonwealth Cup, but Watson feels it is only a matter of time before he becomes a Group One winner.
He said: “He is not technically a stakes winner but he is probably very unfortunate not to be unbeaten. He is still very much learning on the job. He was only beaten a nose at Haydock on his first start on turf over six furlongs when the ground was very heavy that day.
“He ran a huge race at Ascot and he has proven himself to be a proper Group One horse. Things get serious when the three year olds step up against the older horses when the two divisions meet and I just hope he can continue to progress. On the balance of form he has got a very strong chance on Saturday.”
Although Dragon Symbol, who finished second on his Group Two debut in the Sandy Lane at Haydock Park on his penultimate start, did not make it to the track as a two year old Watson believes his decision to allow the Cable Bay colt time to develop is now being rewarded.
He explained: “He came in before Ascot last year but even then he looked very raw and unfurnished, almost like he was going to be a seven furlong horse just the shape of him. We just gave him plenty of time but he has really filled out into a proper sprinter now.
“It’s been more a case of picking the right races to educate him in up until the Sandy Lane when he proved himself to be a proper Group horse and the Commonwealth Cup the same.”
Before both Glen Shiel and Dragon Symbol take to the track at the July Course stablemate Parent’s Prayer will bid for Group One glory in the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes on Friday.
After securing victory in the Group Three Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom Downs on her penultimate start the Kingman filly found the fast ground working against her when attempting to follow up in the Group Two Duke Of Cambridge Stakes at the Royal meeting.
He said: “She won the Princess Elizabeth at Epsom very well, then she took her chance in the Duke Of Cambridge. She jumped and travelled well but just on that quicker ground those horses can quicken up better on it than her.
“She now needs to run in these Group One races and as long as I’m happy with the ground on that day for her I will run her. She is a very straightforward filly that you can roll forward and I’ve no doubt she can be competitive in these fillies only mile races for the second half of the season.”
Meanwhile Watson hopes that Sweeping, who finished fourth in the Listed Chesham Stakes last time out, can put his previous experience to good use and make it third time lucky in the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Stakes on Friday.
He said: “He was second to a very nice horses of John Gosden’s on debut called Dhabab, who ran a nice race in the Coventry, and then we took a nice step forward in the Chesham.
“There are going to be some fancy unraced horses in there but on form achieved so far he ought to be the one to beat and he is a horse we like a lot.”