At the 1972 July Festival, Newmarket trainer Bernard van Cutsem won the first running of the seven-furlong juvenile race now known as the 32Red.com Superlative Stakes, with Great Love.
That initial contest was staged as the Limekilns Plate, named after the famous Newmarket gallops. The race title was altered slightly to the Limekilns Stakes for the 1975 running and remained so until 1980, when the racecourse honoured the memory of van Cutsem, who had died after a long illness in 1975. The trainer of the great Park Top had his name attached to the contest from 1980 until 1991 when it became the Superlative Stakes.
The race, sponsored by Weatherbys from 1996 until 2008, attained Listed status in 1987 and was upgraded to Group Three in 2003. In 2006, the Superlative Stakes was promoted to Group Two class. 32Red.com sponsor the contest for the first time in 2010.
Shirley Heights caused a bit of an upset when winning the contest at odds of 10/1 in 1977, but the victory of John Dunlop’s charge was certainly no fluke as, the following year, he went on to become the first of two horses to land the race en route to Derby success. The other was Dr Devious, who won the Superlative Stakes in 1991 before adding that year’s Group One Darley Dewhurst Stakes. In 1992, Dr Devious became the first horse to win the Derby having also contested the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished seventh. The Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained colt also captured that year’s Irish Champion Stakes.
Lyphard’s Wish landed the spoils in 1978 before going on to win the Solario Stakes. He also chased home the brilliant pair of Ela-Mana-Mou and Troy in the Royal Lodge Stakes. As a three-year-old, the colt won the Craven Stakes on the Rowley Mile and the Dante Stakes at York, as well as finishing fourth in both the 2000 Guineas and Derby.
Lyphard’s Wish also filled the runner-up berths in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and the Prix du Moulin. More strikingly however, is the fact that the colt was Henry Cecil’s first winner of this particular contest – the first of 13!
Cecil dominates the roll of honour, having saddled nine more winners of this race than his nearest rival, Mick Channon. The master of Warren Place followed up with Padalco in 1981 before sending out a hat-trick of winners in 1984 (Pacific Mail), 1985 (Faustus) and 1986 (Suhailie). Faustus added the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood and the Washington Singer at Newbury.
Guy Harwood interrupted Cecil’s dominance in 1987 when subsequent Vintage Stakes victor Undercut landed the odds. It was soon business as usual for the Warren Place horses. Cecil racked up another three-timer between 1988 and 1990 with Samoan, Be My Chief and Hokusai, respectively. Be My Chief was a brilliant two-year-old who ended the season unbeaten in six starts. His wins included the Group One Racing Post Trophy, the Solario Stakes and Vintage Stakes.
Dr Devious in 1991 halted the Cecil bandwagon but the trainer was again on the mark with Ardkinglass in 1992 and Bal Harbour a year later. Allied Forces, subsequently successful in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot for Godolphin, scored for Cecil in 1995, while Baltic State prevailed in 1997. The trainer’s most recent strike in the Superlative Stakes came in 2000 with the Khalid Abdulla-owned Vacamonte.
Bruce Hobbs saddled three of the first nine winners. Meon Valley scored in 1973, while the Mrs Bricken-owned pair of Rhodie Blake (1975) and Rahway (1980) followed suit.
As well as saddling Dr Devious to success, Peter Chapple-Hyam enjoyed a second triumph in 1998 with another future Group One hero. The Robert Sangster-owned Commander Collins justified odds of 4/5 at Newmarket and went on to win the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.
Aidan O’Brien has become a regular visitor to the July Festival and he prepared Thady Quill for victory in 1999. The Ballydoyle maestro enjoyed a second success in the race with Horatio Nelson in 2005. The colt proved himself to be top-class with wins in the Group Two Futurity Stakes at the Curragh and the Group One Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp before his untimely death in the following year’s Derby.
Another top-notch winner of the Superlative Stakes emerged in 2004 when Dubawi got the better of Henrik. Trained for Godolphin by Saeed bin Suroor, the colt was from the only crop of the great Dubai Millennium and went on to collect three Group One triumphs – the National Stakes, Irish 2,000 Guineas and Prix Jacques le Marois.
A former England footballer turned top-flight racehorse trainer, Mick Channon saddled the first of his four winners in 1994 when the filly Fleet Hill prevailed by half a length. Recondite caused a 14/1 upset in 1996, while Halicarnassus caused the biggest shock in the race’s history when winning at 33/1 in 2006. Channon’s latest success came in 2007 with Hatta Fort.
The year 2008 saw trainer Tom Dascombe and jockey Richard Kingscote cap a memorable July Festival in the Superlative Stakes. The pair had enjoyed their first Group race success when Classic Blade won the previous day’s TNT July Stakes and they added a second Group Two prize when Firth Of Forth scored at 8/1. John Ryan saddled the winner in 2009 when Silver Grecian scored under Michael Hills.
Thanks in no small part to his association with Henry Cecil, American riding ace Steve Cauthen is the most successful jockey in the race’s history. His first triumph, however, came in 1983 for Ian Balding aboard the Paul Mellon-owned Elegant Air, who also won that season’s Group Three Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury.
Cauthen’s old rival Pat Eddery enjoyed five successes in the race, while Lester Piggott and Willie Carson each triumphed on three occasions. Carson carried the colours of Her Majesty The Queen to victory aboard the Dick Hern-trained Paradise Bay in 1979.
Favourites have a fantastic record in the Superlative Stakes. Since the seven-furlong juvenile contest was first staged in 1972, 22 favourites have landed the odds in 38 renewals, with 11 of those returning at odds-on.
Pictured: Peter Chapple-Hyam