After sputtering in his past two attempts in the Nunthorpe (G1), Battaash finally produced his fireworks at York Friday and broke the course record set by another Sheikh Hamdan runner – sprint legend Dayjur. Trainer Charlie Hills sounded open to the idea of using the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) ticket earned in this “Win and You’re In,” pending his nearer targets of the Curragh’s Flying Five (G1) and the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day.
Battaash’s Breeders’ Cup possibilities must be squared, however, with the possible reason why it took three tries for him to succeed in the Nunthorpe. Fourth in 2017 and again as the odds-on favorite last year, the Dark Angel gelding can be his own worst enemy by losing his composure. Hills decided to change his travel arrangements to Yorkshire this time, vanning up on raceday instead of the day before. Perhaps spending the night tucked in the comfort of his stall at home put him in the right frame of mind to deliver on Friday.
The second favorite in both the British and North American betting, Battaash was expected to tussle with Aidan O’Brien’s hotpot Ten Sovereigns who was coming off a brilliant July Cup (G1). But Ten Sovereigns was always being nudged to keep up, partly due to a less than stellar start, and likely also as a six-furlong performer dropping back to five for the first time.
In contrast, Battaash was on cruise control at every stage for regular rider Jim Crowley. Perched in striking range from post 1 on the far side, he smoothly advanced just as Soldier’s Call took over from pacesetter Ornate, and struck the front still on the bridle. Battaash zoomed away by 3 3/4 lengths in :55.90, lowering the mark of :56.16 established by Dayjur in the 1990 Nunthorpe, exactly 29 years ago to the day.
Runner-up Soldier’s Call is himself under serious Breeders’ Cup consideration. Trainer Archie Watson sent him to last fall’s Juvenile Turf Sprint, where he was sixth as the favorite after fluffing the break. The least fancied of O’Brien’s Nunthorpe trio, So Perfect, outperformed her odds in third. Next came Mabs Cross, the near-misser from the 2018 Nunthorpe, whose fourth was chalked up to the ground riding too quick for her liking. Ten Sovereigns reported home sixth of 11.
Battaash was registering his second Group 1 victory, his first coming in the 2017 Prix de l’Abbaye. The bay has finished second to Blue Point in the past two runnings of the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot, but he’s won the last two editions of the Temple (G2) and made it a three-peat in the King George (G2) at Glorious Goodwood in his latest. Battaash also set a course record of :56.20 in that August 2 dash, so the Nunthorpe was his second in succession.
Also scorching the Knavesmire Friday, at the opposite end of the distance spectrum, was Stradivarius. By rallying to a title defense in the Lonsdale Cup (G2) with Frankie Dettori, the John Gosden star set a course record of 3:27.06 in the about 16 1/2-furlong test, and took the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million bonus again. The valiant front runner Dee Ex Bee fought off O’Brien’s Il Paradiso (the 117-pound lightweight as a three-year-old) to place second.
Stradivarius has now swept nine straight, and his resume boasts a three-peat in the Goodwood Cup (G1) along with scores in the past two runnings of the Yorkshire Cup (G2) and Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot. Likely next on the agenda is another repeat bid in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2).