MICHAEL DODS has described improving sprinter Azure Blue as 'up there with the best he has trained' ahead of her Group One debut in this month's July Cup at Newmarket. 

The daughter of El Kabeir will bid to give the County Durham handler, who is based at Denton, near Darlington, a first victory in the prestigious six-furlong event after featuring among 19 entries that remain in contention for the £600,000 contest on July 15.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, Dods has tasted plenty of Group One success having saddled Mabs Cross to glory in the 2018 Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp and Mecca’s Angel to victory in both the 2015 and 2016 Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

And although Azure Blue still has a way to go to reach those heights Dods, who has trained more than 1,000 winners, believes the four-year-old filly has the potential to go all the way to the top just as his two former flagbearers did. 

Dods said: "Azure Blue is in the July Cup and that is the plan as long as the ground doesn’t firm up. She is in good form and obviously it will be a tough race but the plan is to go to Newmarket with her.

"She seems to love it at both tracks at Newmarket (Azure Blue has recorded three wins on the Rowley Mile and one on the July Course to date).  She didn’t go to Ascot and part of the reason for that was that the entries closed too soon so we came up with the plan of going for the July Cup. 

"Had she had a run before the entries closed at Ascot then we would have probably entered her but then it went pretty quick so whether she would have run is questionable.

"I think at the moment the speediest horse we had was Mecca’s Angel but at this stage of her career I would put her up there with the best of them like Mabs Cross and Mecca’s Angel."

After landing the Listed Howden British EBF Ellen Chaloner Stakes, which was her third win on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile, on her return to action Azure Blue then took her form to new heights with victory in the Group Two 1895 Duke Of York Clipper Stakes at York. 

While respectful of potential opponents, which could include the Julie Camacho-trained Shaquille, winner of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, Dods feels the best is yet to come from his rising star.

He added: "Everything has been straightforward since York and we have just been ticking her along. She wasn’t in at Ascot and we have just been building her up for Newmarket. 

"Paul Mulrennan (jockey) has been in and sat on her a couple of times since York and he is pleased with her.

"Highfield Princess ran her heart out in both races at Ascot so I think the York form is pretty solid and you can’t knock what the Julie Camacho horse did at Ascot. 

"We don’t push these fillies - we bring them along steadily and we find they repay us in the end by doing that. 

"She keeps surprising us with what she is doing, especially at York last time when she travelled through the race well and then how she put it to bed. I think there is more improvement to come. 

"We just want to go there in as a good a form as we can and make sure we run a big race."

Much of Azure Blue’s improvement this season Dods believes is down to her level of maturity increasing over the winter. 

And while Dods admits he is content campaigning his latest stable star over six furlongs for the time being, he hasn’t ruled out a further drop back in trip later on in the campaign provided conditions are suitable. 

Dods said: "She is a very straightforward horse. With Mecca’s Angel, we had to be careful as she didn’t have the best front legs in the world while Que Amoro, who was a Listed winning sprinter, had a temperament problem but she has none of those issues. 

"I think in the early days she needed to learn how to settle a bit, but we have learned the best way how to ride her now. She grew up a lot over the winter and she has a much more mature head on her now. 

"She always looked like being a six-furlong horse with the possibility of going seven (furlongs) but you would not be frightened to go back to five with her on slower ground and she will have five-furlong entries later on.”