Battaash famously boiled over in the stalls before last year’s Nunthorpe - billed as a battle between leading U.S. raider Lady Aurelia and the home favourite. But he has bounced back to become the world’s highest-rated sprinter and today he is out to avenge his Royal Ascot loss to Blue Point in the G1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, highlight of the third day of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival at York.
When an incredulous Jim Crowley dissected the 2017 Nunthorpe, some thought Battaash’s days as a G1 contender were numbered. The former champion jockey was left bemoaning the sprinter’s headstrong temperament and dislike of entering the starting stalls.
Fast forward 365 days and Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s 4-year old has picked up three wins from his last four starts, including the G1 Prix de l’Abbaye, as well as posting a career-high rating of 129 when destroying a high-class field in the G2 King George Qatar Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.
His dominance that day was highlighted by the remarkable sight of him easing down in the final furlong of five after shattering the linen-clad serenity of Goodwood in the middle part of the race.
The horse’s renaissance is, of course, no fluke, and trainer Charlie Hills and his team in Lambourn have put in endless hours working on the once hot-heated colt’s temperament.
A loss to the impressive Blue Point at Royal Ascot (see video below) has not derailed his season but is seen more by connections as a blip in the road. Hills is phlegmatic about the mercurial nature of sprinting and is keen for his sprint king to overturn the score at York.
He said, “We were beaten by Blue Point at Royal Ascot - he is in there again - but a flat five furlongs will suit us more and we are really looking forward to running him.
“He’s drawn 14, which is fine, and we’ve been very pleased with him since Goodwood. He was impressive that day and did it really well. He had his last breeze on Tuesday morning and we were very happy with him.”
Hills did, however, confirm that he would be exercising extra caution with the son of Dark Angel to avoid a repeat of the shocking scenes before the start. “I think we’ll saddle him in the stables and then take him across the track on the horsebox,” he said. “He’s had plenty of racing since last year and he’s generally behaved well, to be fair.”
Eyeballing the favourite two stalls up will be Blue Point, who will break from 16 and is no stranger to pre-race histrionics himself as he showed in Dubai and Hong Kong earlier in 2018. The King’s Stand Stakes victory at Royal Ascot remains the high-water mark of his career to date and he found Newmarket’s undulating July Course, along with the extra furlong (uphill) all too much in the July Cup next time out.
Although trainer Charlie Appleby agrees that Ascot’s rising ground suits Blue Point, he rejects suggestions that the Godolphin colt is a course expert. The joint third-ranked trainer in the world believes that going to York is “not a worry as he won the Gimcrack” over course. “I think the flat five there will be right up his street,” he said.
“We’ve all got Battaash to beat over this trip, on this track,” Appleby added. “It’s a good race, but we’re looking forward to it and hoping for a good run. Battaash is going to be up there on the pace, and there will be plenty of pace on. In an ideal world, we will be slotting in behind and seeing how the race unfolds from there on.
“He’s growing up now, and since he did that trip to Hong Kong he has been slightly different to handle. He is a horse that needs to be handled carefully, but he is growing up now and is getting better with every run.
“He has got quicker and stronger, like all these sprinters do. He is now the ultimate professional. He looks the part. He trains right and, back to five, you will see him running the race the right way around.
“I’m pleased with the draw. Obviously, we hope the rain stays away as he’s definitely better on quicker ground.”