European stables generally fancy their chances in turf races at the Breeders’ Cup. With one notable exception, that is.
The only transatlantic visitor ever to have been placed in 11 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint was Diabolical, second in the inaugural running in 2008. And even he was a former U.S.-trained Godolphin dirt horse.
But none of the previous raiders will have gone with the same reputation as Britain’s superstar sprinter Battaash, who made the racing world sit up and take notice with his electrifying performance in last week’s G1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at the York Ebor Festival.
Thanks to his stunning 3¾-length victory on the Knavesmire, the Charlie Hills-trained 5-year-old earned a spot in the field for the Turf Sprint at Santa Anita on November 2 via the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge.
First the gelded son of Dark Angel is likely to run in the Flying Five (at the Curragh on September 15) and the Prix de l’Abbaye (at ParisLongchamp on October 6), where he is seeking back-to-back victories.
Then connections will consider the Breeders’ Cup option – trainer ultra-keen, owner Sheikh Hamdan evidently may require a degree of persuasion – and not for nothing has Battaash been installed as 5/2 favourite in prices available with British bookmakers.
For not only did Battash win the Nunthorpe (see video below), he annihilated his hapless opponents, smashing a formidable track record held for 29 years by the great Dayjur, who scorched the York turf in 1990 with his Nunthorpe victory in a time of 56.16secs for the five furlongs. Battaash was clocked at a blistering 55.90s (on good to firm ground) for a display that earned him the status of world’s best sprinter according to official ratings, British handicappers having awarded him a mark of 127, just a pound behind the great Enable, who is currently the overall number one.
Other handicappers, though, have Battash on top – and not just among the sprinters. Timeform, for instance, whose ratings are not prone to political considerations, have the gelding on 136, fully 5lb clear of joint-second placers Blue Point (now retired) and Crystal Ocean. They have Enable on 129.
A corollary of Battaash’s Nunthorpe triumph was a boost for everyone associated with the horse in the latest set of TRC Global Rankings. Trainer Charlie Hills enjoyed the biggest climb (up eight places to 41 with a 5pt gain) but jockey Jim Crowley (+3), Sheikh Hamdan (+3) and sire Dark Angel (+2) also had gains.
Dayjur, Battaash’s predecessor in the Sheikh Hamdan silks, posted further sensational efforts at Haydock and Longchamp before a notorious defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, where he jumped the shadow on the dirt at Belmont.
Battaash, though, can now run on grass, and as an added bonus this year’s Turf Sprint will be run over his specialist five-furlong distance (albeit round a bend) instead of the 6½ furlongs when Santa Anita’s downhill turf chute is in operation.
Always blessed with amazing speed, Battaash has never been the most straightforward horse, which doubtless explains why he was gelded at two; it also explains an inconsistent race record in his early years, a mix of exceptional speed and unpredictable temperament, sporadic brilliance interspersed with the odd dud.
“He’s a lot more experienced now and now I think he’s one of the fastest horses there’s ever been,” said Hills, speaking to the Guardian. “We don’t want to be too greedy with him because he’s a gelding and we’re looking to keeping him in one piece when he’s seven and eight, but if there’s a year to really go for it, this could be it as he’s in great form and we can go on to the end of the year. I'd love to go to Ireland with him in a few weeks and then hopefully go to France and why not the Breeders’ Cup?”