Summer Festival

 The Summer Festival, currently sponsored by Coral, is a two-day meeting staged annually at Sandown Park Racecourse in Esher, Surrey in South East England in early July. Day one, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day, on the Friday, features a seven-race card, which includes two Listed races, the Dragon Stakes and the Gala Stakes. The Dragon Stakes, which was inaugurated in 1992, is run over 5 furlongs and 10 yards and restricted to two-year-olds. The 2018 winner, Well Done Fox, trained by Richard Hannon, also won another Listed contest, the Julia Graves Roses Stakes at York in August, before finishing second in the Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes at the Doncaster St. Leger Meeting.

 

The Gala Stakes, on the other hand, is run over 1 mile 1 furlong and 209 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards. In 2018, Sir Michael Stoute, renowned for his prowess with older horses, saddled the 5-year-old Mustashry to readily hold off Spark Plug, trained by Brian Meehan, who had won the race in 2017, despite returning from a lengthy absence.

 

Day two, a.k.a. Coral-Eclipse Day, on the Saturday, is really all about the feature race, officially the Eclipse Stakes, but sponsored by Coral since 1976 and widely known as the Coral-Eclipse. Inaugurated in 1886, the Coral-Eclipse is run over 1 mile 1 furlong and 209 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards. It is, in fact, the first race of the season in which the current Classic generation – in other words, the three-year-old generation – has the opportunity to compete against the older horses at the highest level.

 

The roll of honour for the Coral-Eclipse includes such luminaries as Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and Dancing Brave. Worth £790,625 in prize money and, since 2011, part of the British Champions Series Middle Distance Category, the Coral-Eclipse is one of the most prestigious, and informative, races of the season.

 

The supporting card for the Coral-Eclipse also includes the Sprint Stakes, run over 5 furlongs and 10 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards. Promoted to Group 3 status in 2004, the Sprint Stakes has been sponsored by Coral since 2009 and is run, for sponsorship purposed, as the Coral Charge.

Northumberland Plate Festival

 The Northumberland Plate Festival is a three-day fixture staged annually at Newcastle Racecourse, in High Gosforth Park, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in North East England in late June or early July. The Festival takes its name from the feature race, the Northumberland Plate, which is run on the Saturday.

 

The Northumberland Plate, run over 2 miles and 56 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards, was inaugurated in 1833, but first run at High Gosforth Park in 1881. The race was originally staged on a Wednesday and, until 1949, formed the centrepiece of a holiday period known as “Race Week”. The Northumberland Plate was switched to a Saturday in 1952, but remains one of the highlights of the horse racing and social calendar in North East England and is still popularly known as the “Pitmen’s Derby”. In fact, nowadays, the race is one of the most valuable races of its kind in Europe, worth over £92,000 to the winner.

 

Currently sponsored by Stobart Rail Limited, who took over from previous sponsor John Smith’s in 2017, the Northumberland Plate was run on turf until 2016 but, following the £12 million redevelopment of Newcastle Racecourse, which included the installation of a replacement all-weather, Tapeta™ surface, has been run on an artificial surface. So, too, of course, have the other major races that form part of the Northumberland Plate Festival, including the Gosforth Park Cup, a valuable 5-furlong handicap sprint run on the Friday evening and the Seaton Delaval Trophy, nowadays a £20,000 added handicap, run over the straight mile and the traditional highlight of the opening day.

King George Weekend

 King George VI Weekend, which takes its name from the feature race, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, run on the Saturday, is a two-day meeting staged at Ascot Racecourse, in the Royal County of Berkshire, in July. Outside Royal Ascot, King George VI Weekend is one of the most prestigious meetings of the year at the course founded by Queen Anne in 1711.

 

The opening day, on the Friday, offers a relaxed, but nonetheless competitive, afternoon of racing. Highlights include the Valiant Stakes, run over 7 furlongs and 213 yards and open to fillies and mares aged three years and upwards. Inaugurated in 1998, the race was promoted to Listed status in 2009. The Brown Jack Stakes, a handicap run over 2 miles and 45 yards, commemorates Brown Jack, who won the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1928 and the Queen Alexandra Stakes, also run at the Royal Meeting, six years running between 1929 and 1934.

 

The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, on the Saturday, has long been considered the premium mid-season, middle-distance race for horses of both sexes and, unsurprisingly, since 2011 has formed the fifth leg of the British Champions Series Middle Distance Category. Run over 1 mile 3 furlongs and 22 yards and open to horses aged three years and upwards, the race was inaugurated, as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Festival of Britain Stakes, in 1951 and currently offers prize money in excess of £1.2 million.

 

Notable winners of the “King George” over the years have included Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Shergar, Dancing Brave, Reference Point and Generous, all of whom were rated at least 138 by Timeform and can therefore be considered some of the greatest racehorses since World War II.

July Festival

 As the name suggests, the July Festival – which, in 2018, was sponsored by French fine winery Moët & Chandon – is a three-day meeting staged annually on the July Course at Newmarket Racecourse, in Suffolk, in the East of England, in July. Collectively, the prize money on offer for the three days is over £1.6 million.

 

The opening day, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day, on the Thursday starts with the Bahrain Trophy, run over 1 mile 5 furlongs and restricted to three-year-old colts, geldings and fillies. The race was promoted to Group 3 status in 2008 and, nowadays, is often used as a preparatory race for the fifth, and final, Classic of the season, the St. Leger. The feature race on Ladies’ Day, however, is the Princess of Wales’s Stakes, run over 1 mile 4 furlongs and open to horses aged three years and upwards. Named in honour of Princess Alexandra of Denmark, who held the title between 1863 and 1901, the race was promoted to Group 2 status is 1978.

 

The feature race on the second day, a.k.a. Feel Good Friday, is the Falmouth Stakes, run over a mile and open to fillies and mares aged three years and upwards. Inaugurated in 1911, the Falmouth Stakes was promoted to Group 1 status in 2004 and is now part of the British Champions Series Fillies & Mares Category.

 

The feature race on the third, and final, day, a.k.a. Darley July Cup Day, is the titular July Cup, run over 6 furlongs, open to horses aged three years and upwards and currently sponsored by Darley Stud, the global breeding operation owned by Sheikh Mohammed. Inaugurated in 1867, the race was promoted to Group 1 status in 1978 and is now one of five races over 6 furlongs in the British Champion Series Sprint Category. The roll of honour for the July Cup reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of European sprinting talent over the years, including Habibti, Mozart, Oasis Dream and, more recently, Harry Angel.