With no disrespect intended to Battaash’s seven opponents, Friday’s Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes is all about one horse.
Britain’s foremost five-furlong event provides the highlight of the third day at the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival at York, with a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on offer as part of the ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge.
Battaash broke the track record in the corresponding event 12 months ago and the 6-year-old comes to the latest edition in even better form, if anything, after winning at Royal Ascot before completing a historic four-timer in the G2 King George Stakes at Goodwood.
Battaash is the highest-rated sprinter on the planet – and is between 11lb and 27lb superior to his rivals on Friday – and an unsettled-weather forecast is perhaps a bigger worry to the gelding’s connections.
That said, the 3-year-olds Art Power and A’Ali are interesting new shooters. Asked about the challenge of lowering Battaash’s colours, A’Ali’s trainer, Simon Crisford, said, “He’s an amazing racehorse with fantastic early speed – and he maintains that speed throughout the finishing quarter of a mile, if not quickening and building on what he does in the early part of a race.
“He’s exceptional, but I was always taught to never to be frightened of one horse.”
Nunthorpe Stakes: a bit of context
History: Named after an area of York, the Nunthorpe Stakes had less than grandiose origjns as it began life in 1903 as a seller before being transformed into the present version in 1922. The race’s status as Britain’s most prestigious five-furlong event was reflected in its title when it was sponsored by bookmakers William Hill between 1976 and 1989 as the William Hill Sprint Championship.
Star turn: Dayjur (1990) – Rightly labelled “the world’s fastest horse” by the Racing Post, the Dick Hern-trained sprint superstar scorched the turf in a track-record performance under Willie Carson in the Sheikh Hamdan silks. He scored by four lengths in a time of 56.16s; the record stood until Battaash blitzed the Nunthorpe 12 months ago with 55.90s.
Most wins (trainer): Ossie Bell (5): Ossie Bell – Highborn II (1926, 1927), Greenore (1932), Concerto (1933), Ipsden (1937)
Most wins (jockey): Lester Piggott (7): Right Boy (1958, 1959), Matatina (1963), Caterina (1966), Tower Walk (1969), Swing Easy (1971), Solinus (1978)
Breeders’ Cup Challenge
The winner of the Nunthorpe will receive an automatic fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland on November 7. A minimum travel allowance of $40,000 will also be provided for all starters based outside North America.
Already qualified (2): Hello Youmzain (Diamond Jubilee, Royal Ascot), Oleksandra (Jaipur, Belmont Park)
Breeders’ Cup past performance
Given the appalling record of European-trained horses in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint – none placed since Godophin’s Diabolical finished second in the first running in 2008 – it is hardly surprising that the Nunthorpe has not been entirely relevant in recent seasons, though two years ago Marsha finished sixth at Santa Anita after scoring at York, where she touched off Wesley Ward-trained Lady Aurelia. The latter was made odds-on favourite for the Turf Sprint under Johnny Velazquez – and came tenth of 12.
Look further back, though, and the race has left a mark, notably in the early 1990s, when 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.
Top contenders for 2020
Battaash (Charlie Hills/Jim Crowley) – world’s top-rated sprinter broke Dayjur’s longstanding track record here last year in a spectacular display; a calmer sort these days, he looks better than ever; maybe testing conditions might blunt speed but sets formidable target and casts imposing shadow over sprint division.
Art Power (Tim Easterby/Silvestre de Sousa) – progressive northern-trained 3-year-old rated only serious rival to favourite after going unbeaten in three starts this term, following up emphatic Royal Ascot handicap victory with more of same in Irish Group race; unbeaten since juvenile debut and no worries on soft ground.
A’Ali (Simon & Ed Crisford/William Buick) — five-time Group winner seeks to complete hat-trick with first top-level victory after picking up strongly to win in Ireland; won on soft at Royal Ascot as 2-year-old; forgive poor effort at last year’s Breeders’ Cup and otherwise he is unbeaten at minimum 5f trip since career debut.
What they say
- Jim Crowley (rider of Battaash): “He’s certainly not getting slower and is just unbelievable to ride. He’s the highest-rated sprinter in the world and if you look at his CV and what he’s won, there are not many sprinters who can do that, and he’s done it for the last four years.”
- Simon Crisford (trainer of A’Ali): “He likes a hard pace to race at and hopefully he will get that on Friday. It was always the plan after his victory in Ireland to head towards the Knavesmire and everything has gone very smoothly and he’s in good shape. He very much deserves his chance and is approaching the race just as we’d want. He’s been training very well and goes pretty much on any type of ground.”
- Tim Easterby (trainer of Art Power): “He is a good horse and always has been. He is getting stronger and better all the time. We have had the likes of Pipalong, Flanders, Somnus and Fayr Jag and he would be right up there with them. Ideally he would like a bit of juice in the ground.” (Speaking to At The Races)