The Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, the last of three Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ contests at this week’s Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, features a potentially thrilling clash of the sprint generations down the straight five furlongs on the Knavesmire.
With a 12-runner field headed by Ballydoyle’s July Cup winner Ten Sovereigns and Battaash, two years his senior, Friday’s £400,000 contest looks sure to be a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ affair.
The Nunthorpe, named after an area of York, also carries a fees-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, a race in which European-trained horses have a dismal record, with none having been placed since Godophin’s Diabolical finished second in the first running.
Two years ago Marsha finished sixth at Santa Anita after scoring at York. Not for nothing, however, is this Britain’s foremost race at the minimum trip – indeed, the Nunthorpe was actually known as the ‘Sprint Championship’ for a time under William Hill’s sponsorship - and, in the early 1990s, horses like Dayjur and Sheikh Albadou left their mark on the Breeders’ Cup with famous efforts (one in notorious defeat in 1990, the other in unexpected victory 12 months later) on the dirt in the Sprint, before the Turf Sprint existed.
Ten Sovereigns (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) is clear favourite for the Nunthorpe despite never having tackled the five-furlong trip. O’Brien, though, perfectly executed a familiar old move from the Ballydoyle playbook when the much-hyped son of No Nay Never blew away his rivals in the July Cup after expensive disappointments in both the 2000 Guineas and Commonwealth Cup.
O’Brien-trained stable companions Fairyland and So Perfect join Ten Sovereigns in a race the Ballydoyle maestro hasn’t collected since Mozart in 2001.
If the distance raises a question mark over Ten Sovereigns, then the track is the worry where five-furlong specialist Battaash (Charlie Hills/Jim Crowley) is concerned as he has posted below-par efforts when only fouth in the last two editions. On both occasions, Sheikh Hamdan’s 5-year-old had won the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood on his previous outing – and the gelded son of Dark Angel duly completed a hat-trick on the Sussex Downs earlier this month.
There has been a significant jockey change on Mabs Cross, touched off 12 months ago by Alpha Delphini (misses the race after a setback) as Gerald Mosse, who partnered Mabs Cross to victory in the Prix de l’Abbaye on her next outing in 2018, takes over from Paul Mulrennan. The latter rode Mecca’s Angel to back-to-back Nunthorpe successes in 2015 and 2016 for Michael Dods, the trainer of Mabs Cross.
Soldier’s Call (Archie Watson/Danny Tudhope), sixth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, hasn’t won since the Flying Childers Stakes nearly a year ago. He was close third behind new stablemate Garrus (Charlie Hills/Kieran Shoemark) on his seasonal debut over course and distance in May.
The Nunthorpe has been part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge since 2011; part of the benefits include a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside North America to compete in the two-day event at Santa Anita on November 1-2.