07/14/2010 5:28PM

Starspangledbanner wins July Cup


Starspangledbanner emerged the gritty winner of the Group 1, $605,000 July Cup at Newmarket on Friday, with the speedy Australian-bred prevailing by a neck over the game pacesetting Equiano. American hopes went up in smoke, however, as Kinsale King weakened to finish 12th after having tracked the early pace in third.

In a rather strangely run race, Johnny Murtagh angled the 2-1 favorite Starspangledbanner over to the far side from his No. 11 post to take advantage of the rail, leading for the first quarter-mile of the six furlongs. Michael Hills went with him aboard Equiano, who took over the blistering pace as he attempted to carry the speed that had won him the five-furlong King’s Stand Stakes an additional furlong.

Kieren Fallon was a bit late following suit aboard Kinsale King, who soon tucked in behind the leaders as the Australian 66-1 shot Alverta pressed the leaders while racing alone in the middle of the track. Meanwhile, 2008 July Cup winner Marchand d’Or took a nasty bump a furlong out of the gate as most of the field angled toward the far-side rail. Marchand d’Or eventually came home ninth.

Murtagh was hard at work on Starspangledbanner halfway through the straight six furlongs, but the 4-year-old son of Choisir hit the front about 170 yards form the line and held off the renewed challenge of the 12-1 Equiano. Alverta was third, three-quarters of a length further back, with Kingsgate Native fourth and defending titleholder Fleeting Spirit fifth. Kinsale King, who had been third behind Starspangledbanner in the six-furlong, Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, backed up to finish 12th of 14, 10 lengths behind the winner, who clocked a quick 1:09.81 on good-to-firm ground for the six furlongs, just .31 of a second off the track record set by Stravinsky in this race in 1999.

Starspangledbanner’s future is an uncertain one. He was purchased by a Coolmore team with Michael Tabor as principal owner after a third-place finish in the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap at Flemington on March 6, with the stated intention of returning to Australia to take up stud duties for the breeding season that is just beginning there. Trainer Aidan O’Brien, however, was mum about his future Friday afternoon. If Starspangledbanner is to take up stud duties this season, he must enter quarantine by midnight Friday. O’Brien was on the phone with John Magnier immediately after the race and said that there would be a lively debate among Magnier, Tabor, co-owner Derrick Smith, and himself about Starspangledbanner’s future plans.

Equiano, who proved he could stay six furlongs, will be cut back to five furlongs by trainer Barry Hills for the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York on Aug. 20.